10 Leadership and Career Myths Debunked


It’s amazes me to see how many fundamentally loony ideas are still considered normal at work.  These erroneous ideas often lead to bad decision-making, but it doesn’t have to be that way!  Open your mind, read these ten, and you’ll start viewing work quite differently.  In no particular order.

Myth #1:  A great functional specialist will make a great leader.

This might be one of the most dangerous ideas at work today.  Listen carefully, just because someone is a great engineer does not mean they will be a great leader of engineers.  The leadership skill set is completely different than the engineering skill set, and the same is true for accountants, marketing professionals, or any other career.

Myth #2:  Talent trumps everything. 

Wrong.  The war is not for talent.  The war is for team chemistry.  Talent is beautiful, but it has to jive with the team in terms of personality and culture.  If you find an amazingly smart person who is also a prima donna or a bully, hiring them is the worst thing you can do.  No jerks allowed.

The war is not for talent.  The war is for team chemistry.

Myth #3:  To build creativity at work, hire a few creative geniuses.

This one is a classic, and completely false.  Creative geniuses are beyond rare.  The key to creativity at work is realizing that every person on the team has a particular creative capacity, and they perform below that level nearly all the time.  The reason is fear of evaluation and mistakes.  Learn to lead in way that makes experiments and smart risks the norm and you’ll realize a completely new level of team creativity.

Myth #4:  Groups are spectacular.  Not usually.

We fell in love with groups because the more you have additional knowledge and expertise, the faster you can get work done.  Sometimes.  What we forgot is that groups come with lots of overhead cost – for example:  meetings!  Groups are good only if they have a clear focus, the right members, needed authority, and effective meetings.  Be honest – how often are all of those true?

Myth #5:  Leadership and management are different.

This one makes me giggle.  People say things such as, “Managers deal with the present.  Leaders envision the future.”  Sorry, but the truth is we have simply taken all of the fun and interesting aspects of being an administrator, and labeled them “leadership.”  Similarly, we have taken all of the cold and disliked aspects of being an administrator, and labeled them “management.”  It’s a false dichotomy.  Your goal is not to think about the difference between being a manager and a leader.  Your goal is to become the very best leader possible.

Myth #6:  Politics at work is bad. 

In contrast, the truth is that all successful people at work are strong politicians.  I’m not referring to politicians in the government sense or in any negative sense.  I’m simply referring to the ability to read social patterns at work, to understand and build coalitions, and to know when to support certain people and issues and when to hold back.  Politics is about knowing how to maximize your limited resources through productive alliances, and it’s a hallmark of all great businesspeople.

Myth #7:  Introverts can’t lead. 

It is true that extroverts have advantages in some situations – they are quick to speak up, better at self-promotion, and often appear more “in charge.”  However, there are plenty of situations where a more thoughtful introverted leader is a better fit.  They often have a calming effect and project a feeling of comfort that employees love.  As a result they tend to be more consistent and predictable.  Never underestimate a talented introvert’s leadership capacity.

All successful people at work are strong politicians.

Myth #8:  You’re either born a leader or you’re not.

People often believe that you’re either inherently a leader from the beginning or you’re doomed.  This thinking makes a very bad assumption.  It assumes that leadership is a trait instead of a skill.  Yes, some people possess traits that help them in some situations, but leadership is actually a set of skills – and skills are things anyone can learn.  Understanding how to communicate, motivate, solve problems, and deal with conflict – all of these are best describe as skills that can be learned.

Myth #9:  Evaluations are necessary and helpful. 

In theory, the employee appraisal process should be helpful.  In practice, it very often hurts more than it helps.  It takes too much time and is often too inaccurate to prove truly helpful.  The solution?  Companies are wise to seriously downsize and streamline their efforts.  The shorter you keep make it, the more employees will love you.  Remember this performance truth:  no infrequent formal conversation will ever be more useful than good frequent informal conversations.

Myth #10:  Civility is good.

Well, truth is – it is good, just not as good as you think.  Specifically, while high performing teams are typically civil, they love something else even more – candor.  They are nice, but they always strive to have candor-filled, forthright, straight forward, and blunt conversations when needed.  They like being nice, but they will never allow civility to get in the way of performance.

We get so busy every day that it’s hard to see the absurdity of some of our common practices and assumptions.  My advice is to share this list with your team and get their thoughts.  You might be surprised what additional oddities they bring up.  You can’t begin to change all of these realities over night, but you just might find a great place to start.

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Image credit: designfgb / 123RF Stock Photo

Dr. Dewett is an author, professional speaker, recovering management professor, and Harley Davidson nut. His job is to build better leaders and teams. He is the author of The Little Black Book of Leadership. His unique brand of energetic leadership knowledge has resulted in quotes in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Forbes, CNN, Investors Business Daily, USA Today, and hundreds of other outlets. After beginning his career with Andersen Consulting and Ernst & Young, he has since spoken to and advised thousands of professionals around the world. Get to know Todd by visiting his home online at drdewett.com, his popular courses at Lynda.com, and his TEDx talk on YouTube.

  • Alan Kay

    Debunked myths noted and agreed upon. Nothing like some counter-intuitive provocation to stir up the dialogue and make progress in the ever-changing world of organizations.

    Myth #1 is the greatest failing of so many organizations – we all know it, but the practice sustains relentlessly.

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