6 Misconceptions about Leadership: Lessons I’ve learned as a Leader and Manager
If you’re ambitious and climbing that corporate ladder or building your dream business, there’s no doubt that you know how important it is to develop into a great leader.
I’ve been leading and managing people for almost 20 years now and I have learned the single most important lesson about leadership: you can never stop learning and working at being a better leader.
Back in ye olden days (translation: the 90’s when I was completing my degree), we were taught all kinds of things about what it takes to be a manager and what the role of a manager entails. It’s burned into my brain: planning, organising, leading and control.
Reading those 4 words now, as a veteran leader of people and as someone who is actively participating in creating the new world of work on a global scale, I feel what can only be described as sadness. The mere fact that leadership was considered to be a sub-function of ‘management’ actually makes my stomach turn and I honestly feel sad, not only for the generations who came before us and were subjected to that thinking and approach, but also for anyone who is still stuck thinking and behaving that way.
Just to make sure that you don’t accidentally get stuck in a time warp, here are the top 6 misconceptions about leadership:
It’s not something you’re born with
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘born leader’ or ‘natural leader’. There was a time when the world honestly believed that you were either born to ‘lead’ or you were born to ‘serve’. The truth is that ‘leadership’ isn’t one single skill or behaviour, but rather a whole set of skills, behaviours and competencies that anyone can learn and improve upon, on an ongoing basis. There’s no quick course you can attend and magically graduate into being a leader.
Being a great leader means committing to lifelong learning and focusing on your self-awareness and developing your ability to lead, so please read articles, listen to podcasts, attend events, work with coaches and mentors, complete courses and devour everything you can on this topic.
It’s not about your job title
Another relic from our past is the concept of positional power and the misguided belief that a job title should automatically earn you respect and loyalty.
As the world of work has evolved, we have seen a democratisation of leadership and we have seen an active shift in thinking about power dynamics and hierarchies in the workplace.
“Leadership is less about the position you hold than the influence you have. It’s about doing world-class work, playing at your peak, and leaving people better than you found them. It’s about leading without a Title.”
Still one of my favourite thought leaders on the topic, Robin Sharma has written some great books that really empower you to lead where you are and lead without a title and you can access a great free resource from him, right here.
It’s not about you
Leadership, for me, is very much about serving others, removing obstacles and complexity at work and inspiring and encouraging people to be the best version of who they truly are.
In order to do this effectively, you need to really embrace the principles of servant leadership and commit to being empathetic, approachable, humble and authentic.
“When I speak to managers, they make me feel like they are important.
When I speak to leaders, they make me feel like I am important.”
I see it all too often in the corporates I work with: those managers who think they’re all-important and everyone should bow down to them and blindly follow what they say. This brings me to my next point.
It’s not about command and control
Our role as leaders is to help remove obstacles and to remove complexity. We need to ensure that our people know what is expected of them and then we need to step away and let them achieve their goals, their way. I learned early on in my career that it was a lot more effective to ask a team member how they thought they should approach a specific challenge and gently guide them to finding the solution, than it was to simply tell someone what to do or how to do it.
Remember also that, as you advance in your career, you become more and more removed from the day-to-day happenings ‘on the floor’, so you’re no longer in the best position to identify issues and inefficiencies. Strive to create an environment where people have the autonomy to deliver on their goals and where they feel safe to speak up about things that aren’t working. Encourage feedback and suggestions for improvement and then action those items.
It’s not about profits, it’s about people
I wish more companies and leaders would embrace this one! Businesses still tend to focus on profits and keeping their shareholders happy, instead of focusing on their people and their workplace culture.
“Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your business.”
Focus on creating a great workplace culture and an environment where your people feel they belong and that their voices are heard, and you will improve employee engagement and work performance, which, in turn, improves the performance of the entire organisation and that, of course, leads to more money in the bank.
It’s not about having all the answers
It is absolutely impossible to know everything or to never make any mistakes. Great leaders surround themselves with great people. Hire people who are smarter than you are or who are better than you are at certain technical things and don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit that you don’t have all the answers and please don’t let your ego get in the way of doing what is best for your team or for your business, just because it wasn’t your idea.
The best leaders I have ever had the pleasure of working with, have been genuinely warm and authentic people with so much humility and gratitude for the fact that they get to lead others. They are truly committed to making a positive impact and they put their people, first. Becoming a great leader, is a journey that is often challenging, but always rewarding. So please don’t get stuck in outdated thinking and please don’t ever stop learning and evolving. The world needs more great leaders. And we need them to be female!
Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker. She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age. Deborah lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and is committed to ensuring that her children – daughter, Reagan and son, Owen – have as many adventures and experiences as possible. Amongst her friends she is known as the woman who always needs at least SPF50 sunscreen and someone who can trip and fall whilst barefoot and stone cold sober. A big fan of tequila, craft beer and MCC, Deborah loves entertaining friends and is secretly a rather big fan of baking.