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7 leadership myths debunked


There are persistent leadership myths that permeate our culture and quietly influence how we conduct ourselves in the workplace and beyond.

Think about a leader that you find inspiring – an athlete, an orator, a super hero, your boss, perhaps your mother.

We, as humans, tend to place these individuals on a pedestal. They might seem smarter, stronger or more courageous than the average Joe. When, in fact, they are fallible beings, just like you and your employees.

Yes, they command respect and admiration from you and others, but their status in your eyes (and in the workplace) was probably hard earned through trial and error, coaching and mentorship, continued learning and the ability to adapt and evolve over time.

There is a lot of advice out there for how to be an effective leader. Unfortunately, some of that helps spread unrealistic ideas of how a leader should behave.

Foster a strong leadership team at your company by avoiding these debunked leadership myths:

Myth #1: Leaders must be extroverts

For years, it was common wisdom that only extroverts could be successful leaders. Introverts, on the other hand, must nurture extroverted characteristics in order to successfully lead teams.

The reality is that introverts can make great leaders. Two of the key traits of introversion, listening to others and quiet reflection, are critical components of sound decision making.

After all, it takes a listener to gather customer feedback and employee observations and a critical thinker to put together common elements that may result in a new business opportunity.

Larry Page, Bill Gates and Albert Einstein stand as solid examples of just how successful introverts can be. There are many more whose names don’t ring a bell. Why? Because they work to highlight the organization and not themselves.

Myth #2: Leaders need to know everything

Some leaders think they must be smarter and know more than anyone working for them.

That logic may have held true in the industrial age when a line worker rose to manager by knowing how to perform every job on the factory floor.

With today’s fast-moving business culture, that’s no longer possible, or even desirable. Today’s leaders need to be willing and able to tap into the skills and expertise of the smart people around them.

Myth #3: One leadership style fits all, forever

Early in their careers, leaders often learn a few management techniques that work well. Those habits can become ingrained.

However, leadership is rarely a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Just as technical skills need to be constantly updated to remain relevant, so do motivation strategies and management styles.

For instance, your approval structure may work well when you’re leading a team of 10, but it may stymie productivity when you’re managing 150. Alternatively, a leadership style that worked when you managed a manufacturing facility might not work with a team of engineers.

As your responsibilities grow, you must learn what motivates different types of people and adapt accordingly. Good leaders nurture their ability to communicate and improve their skills through practice.

Myth #4: Only the boss can lead

It’s a common misconception among managers and employees alike that there’s only one leader per team, department or company. In reality, almost everyone takes on a leadership role from time to time, stepping up and stepping back as circumstances change.

The service representative who decides how to best help an upset customer can be just as much a leader as the boss who sets annual goals and priorities.

You can and should encourage all employees to take charge when appropriate. It’s important to help employees cultivate the necessary skills to lead in their own way, regardless of their title. This is the most effective leadership development tool.

Well-run teams motivate and support themselves, while the leader provides clarity about business priorities rather than micromanaging every task. Energized employees don’t wait to be told what to do.

Myth #5: Management equals leadership

The words “leader” and “manager” are used interchangeably in everyday discussions, but the two functions are distinct.

Managers set and enforce rules and control a group in order to accomplish defined goals. Leaders inspire, influence and encourage those around them, whether they’ve got a management title or not.

Both roles are necessary. The key is to strike the right balance between being a manager and a leader.

Myth #6: Leaders must eliminate mistakes

It’s easy to see at leaders as infallible. However, not only does everyone makes mistakes, but those errors help us learn and grow.

A strong leader understands the difference between sloppy work and unforeseen missteps. The latter means that your employees are experimenting and taking risks, which can lead to both individual and organizational growth.

Rather than punishing or discouraging failure, good leaders observe how employees react to difficult situations – a quiet audition of an individual’s developing leadership and critical thinking abilities.

Without trial and error, there can be no innovation.

Myth #7: “People stuff” is for HR

Some leaders fail to realize that they set the tone for their workplace or understand the power of positive interpersonal relationships.

By focusing solely on operational, financial or administrative metrics, such leaders fail to acknowledge that disrespectful relationships or a cut-throat environment decreases productivity.

Instead, emphasis should be placed on the overall team’s achievements and ability to work toward a common goal. That mindset starts with the business owner or manager and is permeated throughout the entire organization.

Leadership tips may come and go but good management never goes out of style. They practice the golden rule and treat others the way they’d like to be treated. Great leaders have humility and recognize that everyone makes mistakes, including themselves.

Find more leadership tips when you download the e-magazine The Insperity guide to leadership and management.