The word “leader” in popular culture usually calls to mind a military leader, a monarch or some other person shrouded in myth and legend. Mere mortals need not apply.
However, leadership can, and should, be a common occurrence, something that every manager and every individual employee exhibits. It’s time to bust through these common myths and forge a new way of thinking about leadership.
Myth 1: A leader should be cold, tough and omnipotent
Many business leaders still think a tough, all-knowing demeanor is required of managers. In actuality, to guide a team effectively, employees must feel like you care about them and respect their work. Think about your own past experiences. Did you perform better for the boss that asked how you were doing or the boss who ignored your problems with a project?
All the hallmarks of emotional intelligence (EQ) are the traits you want in a boss or co-worker – self-awareness, emotional maturity, social skills and the ability to establish rapport. This requires transparency and a caring attitude.
High EQ managers deliver consistent communication to their team, knowing that doing so builds trust, respect and a willingness to share ideas. Those with low EQ have a harder time interacting well with others and find it more difficult to inspire a team or negotiate internal and external deals.
Myth 2: Leadership is innate – it can’t be learned
No business leader comes out of the womb knowing how to manage a complex project or how to motivate a team. Everyone hones their leadership and management skills during smaller assignments that lead to bigger projects and larger groups.
Yes, some people may be more inclined to understand how to build relationships in order to get things done while others are more comfortable following. But everyone can master the soft skills of leadership that help them work better with others, such as collaboration, listening and decision-making.
Whether it’s classroom learning, an online course, or on-the-job-training, every employee can become a better leader.
Myth 3: Extroverts make the best leaders
Good leaders exhibit balance, as too much of any work style or personality trait tends to alienate other people. That’s why the most effective leaders shun polarizing behavior.
Consider the extremes of extroversion and introversion. Extroverts who are always on, charging hard and driving employees without a break will wear out their team. Introverts who never come out of their office and who avoid social interaction come across as out-of-touch or uncaring.
You can build awareness of how to tap the best of extroversion and introversion through DISC training, for yourself and your team.
Myth 4: Leadership only comes from the top
Leadership qualities aren’t the exclusive domain of a company’s executives. In fact, leadership exists at every level of a company. It’s displayed in how people approach their work and the way they take ownership of tasks.
The individual contributor who challenges his or herself to become a subject matter expert on a key function or process, which in turn helps him or her guide the organization to a change that improves efficiency, displays leadership.
In fact, the most successful executives are always on the lookout for others who display leadership because they want to build their bench of decision-makers.
Myth 5: Leaders must have the answer to every problem
Actually, it’s a display of strength to admit you don’t have all the answers.
Good leaders aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me find out.” It builds respect when managers are comfortable enough and transparent enough to admit they need to seek out more information. It makes employees feel heard and valued because their boss is taking time to find an answer, or devote energy to considering their idea.
If you act like a know-it-all or present yourself as above making errors, you will seem unapproachable to your employees. Therefore, they’ll be less likely to share their good ideas and suggestions for improvement with you, which undermines their ability to demonstrate individual leadership and ultimately harms productivity.
Myth 6: Leaders must be well-liked by their staff
Being a company executive or department manager isn’t a popularity contest. Generally, business leaders are chosen for their subject matter expertise and ability to make tough decisions for the good of the business.
Business success depends equally on a leader’s ability to get things done, and that requires that employees perceive their boss to be fair, transparent and respectful. So while likability is helpful for any human interaction, it’s also important to balance reasonableness with toughness. (See Myth 1 above.)
Say it has become necessary to eliminate a certain role within your company, and with it, several positions. While employees might not like it, they can respect their boss, and the decision, if they understand the business reasons for the job losses.
A respectful version of this announcement might sound like this: “It’s been a difficult decision, but to meet our new, smaller budget, we need to eliminate three positions. The people currently in these positions have been offered other jobs.”
Myth 7: Leaders focus on advancing their careers
The business world is littered with solid performers who failed as leaders because they put their personal ambition ahead of what was best for their company.
The most successful leaders focus on what’s best for their organization, whether they’re an individual contributor or leading a group of 300. These are the employees who are ambitious for their department, their company, and sometimes, themselves.
Centering all decisions on what’s best for the business also helps leaders see their decisions holistically, since this focus requires an understanding of how a decision in one department may impact other departments.
Get more myth-busting management tips when you download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.