3 Modern Leadership Myths

mythbustingTen or twenty years ago, debunking leadership myths was easy. In every other corner office you could find an overconfident boss barking orders to masses of underperforming employees. However, over the last decade there has been a shift in the prevailing management winds.

Most of the changes have been good—though none revolutionary. People are getting more respect. Collaboration, engagement, and performance are all on the rise. More and more companies are doing well by doing good. None of it is “new,” successful leaders have been doing this stuff for years. It’s just becoming more acceptable.

However, there are some questionable tenants in this growing “new” leadership doctrine that haven’t been fully thought out. They sound good and leaders are assimilating them as founding principles, but after further inspection, you’ll see many of their premises are flawed.

I offer the following examples and ask for your feedback:

Myth #1: There’s no place for harsh or domineering leadership styles. In this new era of individual respect, the idea of a leader issuing unilateral orders without asking for opinions from others seems utterly barbaric. As a result, the autocratic leadership style is snubbed and reserved for dictators and half-wits. In fact there a number of situations where a strong autocratic leadership style is called for—so we should learn how to use it, not ignore it. What would you think of an EMT that arrived at the scene of an accident and promptly gathered everyone around to hear their opinions on what to do first—CPR, call for more help, or tend to other wounds?

Myth #2: Experience is the best teacher for a leader. It’s etched in every big company’s fast-mover career timeline—get the right jobs to get the right experience. You do that and you’ll be better qualified for leadership positions at the top. I have nothing against experience. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential part of learning—but it’s not always the best teacher. Yesterday’s experience may be totally irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re not careful it could pigeonhole your view of the world and lock you into an antiquated perspective. For experience to make you better, you must reflect on it.

Myth #3: You have to be an optimist to be a great leader. There’s no room for pessimism among great leaders—they’re always hopeful, always positive, and always believing that good will triumph in the end. Yeah, well, you could say the same about the couch potato who sits at home all day watching motivational speakers on YouTube. The fact is, you need some pessimism as a leader. You need to be able to envision the worst possible scenario—and really believe it could happen—if you’re ever going to successfully defend against it. And honestly, without pessimism, there would be no real change. All change starts with a discontentment.

What do you think are the big myths in leadership today? 

One thought on “3 Modern Leadership Myths”

  1. Geoffrey,
    The biggest myth about leadership is that it is conceptualised in isolation from the  group for which it occurs!
    ‘Leadership’, if it exists as a phenomenon at all, is about the group’s mission: and it varies from group to group.  It extends from basic management concerns such as supplying resources, equipping people and supporting them in their ‘sensing’ of the environment, to ‘meta-group’ concerns such as handling crises (refer to Heifitz’s work on adaptive leadership), identifying or activating towards a direction (e.g. as dictated by market, stakeholders, circumstances, or the mission environment).
    Too much of ‘leadership’ talk seems to be cast in the comic book mould of the isolated hero having all the ideas, all the knowledge and all the gumption herding reluctant and barely capable people to the task they are avoiding.
    Oddly, this is hardly democratic and really, I think, contrary to the ideals of America’s foundation that it is a commonwealth of free and self-determining individuals who have come together willingly for a purpose.
    As soon as ‘leadership’ evaporates and we see the mission as the object of a ‘community of intent’ to which all contribute and in which all collaborate, we will, I think, be better off in business, and in building community capital.

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