Leadership has evolved over the years, but there are still some common leadership misconceptions hanging around which can make leading teams quite stressful if we buy into them.
Over time, leadership has evolved from telling people what to do, to taking a more inclusive approach. This means some of the old school leadership thinking may no longer be helping us.
As the “old guard” of leaders move closer to retirement, upcoming leaders need to be able to work with new generations in different ways. While there is no “one size fits all” approach that works, we need to dispel some unproductive leadership misconceptions to lead effectively.
In this post, I look at some of these leadership misconceptions and how they might be holding us back.
Leadership Misconception #1: Leaders Need to Know It All
There are still some leaders around that feel they need to know it all. To be the smartest, most capable person in the team. This makes them the top dog.
If you believe this, then leadership can become very stressful. You’ll be forever trying to stay one step ahead of your team, knowing more, shutting down their opinions, being the best.
This can become more stressful if your team members buy into this leadership misconception too. They may scoff when you don’t know the answer, and wonder why you have the leadership role at all.
Knowing It All Is the Enemy of Accountability
If you can let go of knowing it all, you are more likely to ask your team for input. They contribute ideas and opinions to create a variety of options to make progress.
Once they start to contribute, they begin to take ownership. They start to step up and become proactive, knowing you’ll give them the freedom to do so, and that their expertise is required.
They start to become more accountable because they know they’re valued and needed in their role.
By contrast, a leader who wants to know it all won’t ask for input, because they know the answer. Nobody will step up, because there is no need to.
So if you want a team full of people who take proactive action rather than just wait for direction, let go of needing to know all the answers.
If you can get this mindset right, you’ll feel much more comfortable in your leadership role.
Learn More: How Much Technical Expertise Should You Have to Lead Your Team?
#2: Leaders Need to Be Extroverted
When I’m working with thoughtful leaders, sometimes I notice they still feel pressure to be extroverted or charismatic in their leadership role.
While these traits are not necessarily bad, they certainly aren’t required for good leadership. An introverted or quiet leader can make excellent decisions, communicate well and support a team effectively.
It’s also becoming clear to me that the binary classification of introvert vs. extrovert is not necessarily helpful. When we label ourselves as introverted, we can limit ourselves to the definition below.
From Healthline – Introverts:
- Do better in quiet environments
- Enjoy spending time alone; and
- Show more reservation than enthusiasm in social settings.
While this is a convenient definition, I don’t find it to hold true all that often. I’ve come across many introverted people who can do very well in social situations or as the centre of attention – they just might need a good lie down afterwards.
I myself am definitely on the introverted side, but I enjoy running training, workshops and public speaking all the same.
The point is, it’s not helpful to limit ourselves to being an introvert or extrovert. The spectrum should be acknowledged, and there is nothing wrong with being quiet, thoughtful or introspective in leadership.
If you can let go of this one, you can feel comfortable leading as the authentic you.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #28: Why Softly Spoken Leaders Make a Big Impact.
Leadership Misconception #3: Leaders Need to Be Stoic
It’s good to be cool, calm and collected as a leader. People generally feel more comfortable following someone who can keep it together during stressful situations.
However, showing emotions has become a more common part of leadership.
Without expressing any emotions, leaders run the risk of:
- Appearing robotic and detached
- Seeming like they don’t really care; or
- Appearing unapproachable for people who want to discuss challenges or stresses they are facing.
It is of course, all about balance. A leader who expresses too many strong emotions, too often may lose credibility and seem as if they’re not up to the job.
Displaying some degree of vulnerability can be important to build trust in leadership these days, as Brene Brown highlights in this podcast.
So if you feel compelled to show your emotions to your team, it will only make you appear more human, if you can find the right balance.
Your people may be more inclined to share their own thoughts and feelings in return, which can build trust in your team over time.
Learn More: The Impact and Importance of Emotions in Leadership.
Leadership Misconception #4: Leaders Need to Show People Who Is Boss
Sometimes it can be tempting to enter a leadership role and exert your authority, to show people “who is the boss around here”. The idea behind this would be to encourage people to follow you and to shut down anyone who is resistant to your leadership.
Unfortunately, taking this approach can have the opposite effect.
Even if people do toe the line and respect your authority, you may be unwittingly causing a problem because people may not feel comfortable opening up to you or sharing information. A subtle resentment can build, resulting in silence from the team.
Some leaders see a lack of team input as “no news is good news”, but often the opposite is true.
It can be a powerful statement to a team when you resist the temptation to stamp your authority, and instead take an open approach where you ask for input and feedback about the team, in order to improve. People may show less resistance when you’re not trying to force them to do anything!
Command and control is dead. Look for other ways to get your people on board and help them to feel valued.
Learn More: Why Formal Authority Won’t Solve Your Leadership Problems.
Leadership Misconception #5: Leaders Need to Be Accountable For Everything
Another of the common leadership misconceptions I see cropping up often is that a leader needs to be accountable for everything in the team.
While it is true that you will have overall accountability for the work of your team, the best teams have mutual accountability… at multiple levels.
It would be absurd for the boss of a major company to be accountable for everything. Instead, they appoint people to lead different areas, and then hold them accountable for their own results. It doesn’t need to be any different in your team.
You can have people who are accountable for different functions of your team, or different aspects of the work your team does. For example, a team member may be accountable for making sure the tools that your team uses are always current and up to date.
Or perhaps, someone is accountable for ensuring your monthly reporting is done on time, and quality checked. It doesn’t always need to be you.
In fact, when you feel like it’s only you who is taking ownership, you’ll feel quite lonely, and likely feel vulnerable too. This can make you feel compelled to micromanage and closely control all aspects of your team.
Ideally, you’ll want people stepping up and taking ownership of their own piece of the puzzle.
This builds team commitment as well as personal pride, which can have your people putting greater effort into their work, without you needing to ask them.
Learn More: If you’d like to learn more about how to build this type of accountability in your team, consider enrolling in my Team Accountability Builder Online Course.
Don’t Let These Leadership Misconceptions Trip You Up
These leadership misconceptions can have you feeling low on confidence, insecure and out of your depth, if you buy into them.
That’s why it’s so important to keep challenging them as you continue on your leadership journey. Sometimes you’ll lead team members or have a boss who believes the leadership misconceptions above, which can be a challenge as they expect you to lead a certain way.
However, it’s up to you to lead by example, educate your stakeholders and show them that leadership has evolved, and that you can get better results in different ways.
What other leadership misconceptions have you noticed in your workplace? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
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