What a leader is not

A good leader is not interested in followers; he or she is busy making more leaders. Here are 10 things that ordinary bosses and managers do wrong

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True leadership is one that draws from the strengths of others. It is about awakening what is half asleep inside people. This requires that we inspire people to discover their innate abilities. In a corporate setting, such leadership is crucial to business success. The ability to unleash people’s potential, to energise them to use their talent and to work towards a common goal is the master skill of a true leader. However, there are many myths about leadership that need to be dispelled. Here are the 10 most prevalent among them.

Myth 1 Leaders should encourage competition amongst their team members

Some leaders make people compete so they perform better by trying to outdo their teammates. This makes as much sense as telling the defender in a football team to compete with the striker rather than to work together to score goals.

Although competition is seen to influence people to go the extra mile and perform better, encouraging collaboration and using peoples’ collective strengths is a more productive approach. When people are inspired to make the team bigger than themselves, it leads to better teamwork and results.

Myth 2 Leaders should have full control and command over their followers

By having complete control over the team and issuing commands, some leaders get the sense that they have a better grip on the situation and can do things ‘their way’. In truth—and extensive research supports this—dictatorial leadership stifles innovation and people actually perform better when they are trusted to perform well.

Myth 3 Leaders should take an ‘ivory tower’ approach

Leaders who stay at head office and keep an elitist approach may think that they are gaining more respect from their employees. The reality is that in order to inspire people, you need to connect with them, which can happen more easily with face-to-face time. Additionally, leaders who are more involved have a better idea of the realities of the team’s working situation and find solutions to some of the daily obstacles.

Myth 4 Leaders should be charismatic

It is true that some leaders have sheer charisma. However, many leaders earn respect through their attitude, diligence, and capabilities. As my friend, Dr. Nido Qubein says, “it is authenticity, not charisma that counts.” Successful leaders are authentic.

Myth 5 True leaders are born leaders

Yes, some leaders are innately gifted with leadership qualities; however, most of them become leaders by experience, learning from mentors and having a burning desire to lead. Whether acquired or innate, leaders need to consciously hone their abilities to lead. And yes, leadership improves with experience.

Myth 6 Leaders are people who have been designated to a position of leadership

Leaders do not need a designated position to lead. They only need the right attitude and desire to lead. An organisation needs leaders at all levels.

Myth 7 Leaders need to know it all

The best leaders hire people who are smarter and skilled in other ways than themselves so that they can learn from them and work together to achieve the common goal. Great leaders realise that they do not know it all, and that in order for the team to perform at its peak, each member needs to contribute his or her own expertise. Leaders are aware that mistakes happen. However, they also understand that they must learn from these mistakes and take measures to prevent them in the future. Leaders know how to bounce back bigger and stronger after their mistakes.

Myth 8 Leaders should be older and more mature than the team they are leading

In some cases, age does bring the experience that is required to lead. However, it is not a prerequisite. There are many examples of young, capable, and energetic leaders that have provided fresh, new thinking to an organisation.

Myth 9 Leaders are egotistical and self-centered

Leaders require a sense of humility in order to understand that everything happens with the help of others. They need to appreciate that they are not the only drivers of success and that they require the rest of their team to reach their goals.

Myth 10 Leaders do not delegate high-level work

Great leaders create leaders, not followers. And they do so by being good role models and allowing their team to prove its ability by assigning important work. [Here's how you can become a master delegator]

Effective leadership

Many prevalent leaders in society today have been influenced by these myths, whether it is because of the public media, what they have been taught in school, or a leader that they have worked with in the past. These myths can explain the lack of purpose that members of many organisations feel.

Counter to commonly-believed myths, effective leadership is...

  • being a role model
  • being a coach
  • empowering others
  • trusting and believing in the inherent abilities and gifts of team members
  • encouraging collaboration instead of competition
  • involving the team in the preparation of a clear vision and mission
  • sincere praise of team members at every opportunity
  • showing empathy and care
  • rewarding excellence
  • being result-oriented, not task-oriented
  • exhibiting clear, ongoing, and positive communication

Effective leadership is the ability to inspire and catalyse the potential of the team. It is all about people. You share your success with them, tap into their talents, and show them how their work makes a difference. This way their work becomes far more than just making a livelihood. You arouse their curiosity to learn more, stretch their imagination by encouraging them to aim high and to make decisions.

Leadership is about making leaders of your followers. People learn best when they have to teach others, so it is about unleashing the spirit of empowerment and involvement. There is so much richness within each person to be discovered. Until it is discovered, it will forever be absent from the workplace. It is the role of effective leaders to nurture this richness.

You can avoid falling into the trap of these myths by being an effective leader. If you have a leader who operates from these myths, do not react to him or her but rather become the leader that he or she ends up looking up to.


A version of this article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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