10 Common Leadership Myths and How to Overcome Them


Before we begin exploring the myths of leadership, let’s take a moment to examine these three “truth or myth” questions:

Truth or Myth? Caffeine and its effects are addictive.

Answer: We can hear it right now, “I can’t start my day without it, I’m addicted!” We also realize what some call withdrawal symptoms when we don’t make our morning brew. This is a myth! According to accepted definitions of “addictive,” caffeine is not addictive.

Truth or Myth? As I get older, I need less sleep.

Answer: Yes, as we get older, many of us sleep less and we tend to assume that as we get older, our need for sleep decreases. This is a myth! While enough sleep is healthy both mentally and physically, we need the same amount of sleep regardless of our age.

Truth or Myth? Eating at night leads to weight gain.

Answer: Many of us refrain from eating after a certain time in the night thinking that it will lead to weight loss. Some people also follow the age-old practice of eating a large breakfast, a light lunch, and a light dinner in hopes of losing those pounds. This is a myth! It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat. The USDA and nutritionists say it’s about how many calories you take in and how many calories you burn.

Do you know the correct answer to any of the above myths? If not, don’t be surprised. Most of us have come to believe in these fabrications.

Why is it that we have these beliefs and carry them with us in our daily lives? Mythology resonates well with us today. We have the amazing ability to be able to remember the nuances about myths far more easily than the details of more mundane matters. One reason for this is that information is much easier to remember when it is in the form of a narrative as opposed to in its raw state. Myths make it easy.

Sometimes myths can be very beneficial to us because we are able to remember the situation from which we can learn or grow. Captivating stories allow us to transcend psychological, social, political, or even spiritual lines to understand more multidimensional matters. But myths also have a downside. Without challenge, myths become gospel, and we may find ourselves hanging on to ideas and practices that are simply ineffective.

Since myth is a casual way of explaining the unexplained, it makes sense that we would rely on myths to help us along our leadership journey. When we take a complex concept like leadership, and rely on myths to explain it, we fall into an intellectual and emotional trap that fails to serve the people we lead. Tradition, legends and folktales become our guiding principles and we are oblivious to the reality of today’s leadership challenges.

Here are the 10 most common leadership myths and how to dispel them:

1. Results for aggressive leaders

Not every time. In fact, sometimes strong leaders introduce performance bottlenecks and anger those they trust. Being aggressive is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of insecurity and a way of covering up a weak person from within. It often relies on coercion to get things done, resulting in minimal effort and limited results. Meanwhile, loving leaders who work well with others are mission accomplished.

2. Leaders Must Have Answers

Let’s hope not. The complex world we lead in is just too unstable for us to find answers to all the time. Anyone who thinks they should have every solution is making a fool of themselves, but not those they work with. We all need to rely on others to fill gaps, inform us of what we’re missing, and provide our expertise. Being vulnerable and humble creates a bridge for team members, nurtures trust and fosters creativity.

3. Leaders Don’t Have Enough Time

Nobody feels like they have enough time and leaders are no different. Time is limited, there are only so many hours in a day. The best leaders make better choices about how they spend their time. They take the time to increase their self-awareness, build relationships, and care for themselves and their employees. They invest their time in their employees and know that employees will invest their discretionary energy and time in return.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” – Donald McGannon

4. Extroverts Make Better Leaders

The main difference between extrovert and introvert is that extroverts think as they speak and introverts speak after thinking. To be honest, they both bring tremendous advantages and some disadvantages to the workplace. Where leadership is concerned, neither has an edge over the other. Both can express love, be authentic and find joy in the workplace.

5. Leaders don’t make hard decisions based on emotions

We all know that leaders take tough decisions all the time. In fact, it is one of the things that leaders are paid to do. Often these decisions are based on data, as they should be. However, when we base our decisions solely on data and metrics and disregard the sentiments of those who are affected by the decisions, we are at a tremendous risk of building bridges, trusting, and getting needed purchases from employees. Opportunities are missed. Emotional intelligence matters.

6. Leaders Tell It As It Is

One of the more common misconceptions about leadership is that leaders believe what they believe – that they take a “no holds barred” approach to say it. Rarely, if ever, is the best approach. The way we convey the message, it’s not like everyone gets it. Leaders need social awareness and sensitivity to express their vision in a way that people can understand and inspire. The best leaders have a relationship with their employees and deliver the message in a way that will ultimately be better received.

7. Leaders Make Missions First

The problem with this over-repeated mantra is that a mission cannot be accomplished without its people. It is the people who will implement the decisions taken by the leaders and dedicate their time and energy to fulfill the mission. They are the first. If people don’t come first, mission achievement will be mediocre. Of course the mission matters. This is the reason why we work in a given organization. But having mission first by definition means everything else comes second. A mission accomplished waving the flag when its people are underestimated and not cared for is a failed mission.

8. Leaders are highly credible and educated

This is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions of leadership. Many individuals with well-known college degrees and intelligence have not only failed miserably as leaders, but many without college degrees have become tremendous leaders. What matters most is the ability to know oneself and get to know the people who work for them. It is the human connection that matters the most.

9. Great Leaders Are Born

This may be true sometimes, but not always. Leaders are mostly made. We all have the ability to learn to lead, and leadership takes continuous work and learning throughout one’s career. We are in no way limited by our genetic makeup in terms of our ability to influence and inspire others.

10. People Will Take Advantage Of A Humble Leader

This is true only when the leader allows this to happen. Leaders with humility show tremendous character strength and are better able to connect with others and build high-performing, productive teams. A polite leader is also equipped to clearly and directly address poor performance and inappropriate behavior.

We can learn a lot from mythology and stories like these provide us with a sense of base and comfort. It is all too easy to depend on what we believe to be true, rather than work hard to discover the truth for ourselves. With the time-sensitive, hyper-competitive nature of the workplace, it is no surprise that leadership myths thrive.

We cannot depend on mythology, legends or stories as substitutes for effective leadership. The role of the leader is too important to fall into the trap of leaning on unproven theories about what works. Rather than accepting things at face value, leaders should be lifelong learners and truth seekers about who we are, how we relate to others, and our impact on our organizations. It demands polite inquiry, discretion and reflection on the part of leaders everywhere.