We figured this Throwback Thursday was a good time to take a moment and reflect on these misconceptions about leadership.  Have any of them popped in your practice lately?  If so, how have you tackled them?  Share your strategies and questions!

Misconception #1: Leaders need to have all the answers.

You hear the voice in your head saying “It would be easier if I did this myself.”  Have you ever felt that it might look incompetent to say “I don’t know.” Maybe you even feel like you need to prove that you are better at this than any of your team members.  These thoughts and feelings are all connected to an understanding of leadership in which the leader derives authority from having all the answers.

Contrast that with this line from Generative Leadership:

Leaders draw out “the combined insight, creativity, and capacity of everyone in the school and enable everyone to continue thinking and acting constructively even without the leader’s presence or direction.”

Instead of the leader being the source for ideas and action, he/she taps into the collaborative potential of the team.  Instead of compliance and emulation, this type of leadership results in creativity and new solutions.

Misconception #2: Leaders can improve performance by giving clearer direction and/or defining consequences.


image credit: comprehensivemedia.com

In their book Switch; How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath argue that while giving clear directions is important (they call this directing the rider), equally important is inspiring individuals.  Heath and Heath compare an individual’s emotional side to an elephant and their rational side to a rider.  If you direct a person’s rider without motivating him or her emotionally, it’s likely the elephant will over power the rider.  Both elements need to be in place for real change to occur.   Check out more about this theory here.

Misconception #3: Leaders need to work a million hours per week.

Tip #31 of the Harvard Business Review’s Management Tips is “Take a Mini-Break.”  #16 is “Get Creative by Zoning Out.” Transformational leaders make space to be creative, reflective, and thoughtful.  This means not only carving out time in your day to consider the big picture, but also giving your brain a break.  Creating some down time by doing things like exercise or mediation, results in more creative and innovative thinking.


image credit: kyleedginton.com

Misconception #4: Thinking “I’m the only sane one here!”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing everyone around you as crazy, not good at their jobs, or maybe just plain lazy.  In the Arbinger’s Institute’s book Leadership and Self-Deception, having these thoughts is referred to as being in box and it’s incredibly easy to do.  It is easy for us to see and understand our own situation without doing the same for others.

To combat this thinking, systems theory pushes us to ask ourselves “What about my thinking or actions is contributing to this problem?”  When you ask that question, you help push yourself out of the box and begin to see an image of the world less colored by our own ego.  Letting go of our ego driven actions allows us to create the best results possible.

We all have had many moments when we acted on these assumptions.  The key is to keep them in mind, check yourself often, and forgive yourself if you slip up.  Leadership is not something that you master and check off the list; it’s an endeavor in life-long learning.