What people think it takes to be a leader and what it actually takes
Warren Bennis said: “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
I’ve been asked my take on whether leaders are born or made countless times along with many other myths about leadership. Here are a few more that get in the way of good leaders becoming great leaders that I’d like to debunk:
Leaders are experts in their area – Sometimes, but what leaders are really good at is finding the right experts to execute strategy or deliver on a project and the right questions to ask to ensure they are confident in that person’s expertise.
Leaders have all the answers – Nope, instead they have good questions. And, if they have the answers, effective leaders ask questions to help others see what they can see.
Leaders are problem solvers – They help people decide between possible solutions and identify overlooked solutions.
Leaders are extroverts – They can be, but great leaders come from all personality preferences and styles. Every personality style has its benefits and pitfalls when it comes to leadership. Its about how they develop their strengths and blindspots that matters.
Leaders words don’t carry more weight – In practice I’ve seen that they do. This is a big reason why we get leaders to hold back and go last when working with a team to get ideas on the table. When the leader goes first, we tend to get variations of the leader’s idea to follow and in effect an echo chamber.
Leaders don’t get lonely – They loneliest person is often the CEO and other senior leaders. People tend to clam up when they step onto the elevator or walk into the coffee area. They don’t get asked to join for lunch etc etc. They don’t have peers the same way you do.
Leaders are confident and fearless – The reality is they are often scared and have exceptional self-management to help those around them feel more certain.
Leaders are infallible – They are human and capable of mistakes but they take radical accountability for their mistakes
Leaders are rescuers – Instead, they are coaches and let people resolve their own challenges with support ensuring they grow and develop in their expertise and into future leaders.
Leaders get good feedback – Many leaders struggle to get candid feedback because people worry about the impact even if they have an excellent relationship with their boss. When a leader asks their team for feedback its generally positive even with the best relationships. When they solicit anonymous feedback through a coach or 360 survey, they get more balanced feedback. It’s a reality of their status, not their relationships.
There is one right way to lead – There are as many leaders as there are approaches to leadership. There is a transition that all effective leaders need to make, a certain letting go. Letting go of being right, letting go of being liked and letting go of winning at all costs are essential. And so is letting go of one way of leading.
What it really takes to be an effective leader is grit, vulnerability, receiving unsolicited criticism, the ability to ask tough questions, deep and curious listening, humility to know when you’re wrong and own your mistakes, a vision or the ability to conjure a vision from a team, and a whole lot of courage.