Most of us have a mental image of a leader. We usually picture someone who is outgoing, smart, decisive, perhaps even a little intimidating at times. In fact, most of us equate being the leader with being the boss, which isn’t always the most accurate comparison.
This flawed view of what makes someone a leader is often one of the primary reasons that people don’t seek leadership roles. They don’t reach their full potential because their skills and personalities are so different from those of established leaders. Consequently, they lose opportunities for more meaningful work, higher salaries, and a greater sense of accomplishment.
However, by identifying the ideas about leadership that aren’t true, and understanding what actually defines a good leader, it’s possible to make changes that could lead to new roles and opportunities.
Myth No. 1: Position determines leadership
Perhaps the most common myth about leadership is that if someone is at the top, they are a leader. Their titles indicate leadership. Yet anyone who has ever worked for a poor manager, or watched a series of poor decisions affect a company’s bottom line can attest that just because someone has “CEO” in their title doesn’t mean that he or she is a good leader. Leadership isn’t tied to a job description. True leadership stems from influence, which means that you can find leaders even in the lowest levels of the organization.
Myth No. 2: Leadership is synonymous with management
Leadership isn’t always mutually exclusive with management; one can be a leader and a manager. However, great work management is focused on maintaining the processes and systems, and ensuring that workflow is moving as it should. Management is task-based, while leadership is based on influence. Leaders may have certain management tasks in their job description, but to be considered a leader, one must be focused on the bigger picture.
Myth No. 3: Leadership cannot be taught
We’ve all heard the expression “Leaders are born, not made.” Nothing could be further from the truth. While some people have an innate talent for leading others, the fact is that most people need guidance when it comes to developing their leadership abilities. With patience and focus, along with insights from leadership experts, anyone can develop the skills they need to lead others. In fact, even those who already have leadership skills can benefit from further training and development—why else would there be books, seminars, and even doctoral programs in leadership? Leadership can be taught, and leaders who are open to learning more and continually building their skills are often the best leaders.
Myth No. 4: Leaders must always be leading
Some people avoid leadership roles because they think that leaders must always be on: working, strategizing, and refining their vision. However, leaders who constantly demand nothing but commitment and excellence from themselves, and others, often create burnout. No one can be that focused and that intense all the time. Leaders need to make time to refuel themselves, and step back to relax and reflect. Leaders who commit to this time are often more creative, and are better able to connect with themselves and those whom they are leading. In short? Leadership does not have to mean workaholic.
Myth No. 5: Leaders must be extroverted
This misconception often stems from a misunderstanding of what it means to be introverted or extroverted. Often, these terms are used to describe how outgoing someone is or isn’t; extroversion is often associated with being gregarious, talkative, and confident, while introversion is often synonymous with shy or withdrawn. That’s only part of the story, though.
Whether you are introverted or extroverted actually has more to do with how you process and work through information, and less to do with how you behave in social situations. Extroverts tend to work through things by talking about them; they seek others’ insights and input, and reach conclusions in a more outward manner. Introverts, on the other hand, tend to process ideas and conflict internally, and carefully consider their position with less input from others.
So what does this mean for leaders? In general, extroverts are more attracted to leadership roles, and their willingness to engage with groups often makes their jobs easier. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be an extrovert to be a good leader. Many successful leaders are considered introverts, and have put their unique skills to work.
The fact is, not everyone is cut out to be a leader. However, many people who could be great leaders sell themselves short because they buy in to these myths. If you think you can’t be a leader because you aren’t the head of the department or comfortable in crowds, think again. You might just have the exact skills you need to lead inside you.