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7 Myths About Leadership That Are Dumb

        posted by , December 10, 2012

Leadership is big.

It's the essence of business. It's the essence of politics. It's the essence of ideas.

In many ways, leadership is also the essence of culture and art ... but I digress.

People get excited about leadership ... and why not ... it's the basis for many of the things people value.

Like any topic that people get excited about, leadership is surrounded in myth. These are some of the most persistent and misleading.

1. Born leaders

The myth of the born leader has been with us for thousands of years. It's the basis for Monarchy.

The reality is that all great leaders are born of experience. Look at the Ghandis, Napoleons and John F Kennedys of history. They had very different lives but their lives were brimming with experience (including failures).

2. Leaders have a lot in common

There are as many styles of leadership as their are styles of art.

Leaders tend to have little in common. In fact, they tend to be more individualistic than the general population. Perhaps that's the biggest thing they have in common.

3. It's clear who the best leaders are

Leadership is the most difficult skill to judge. In fact, the only sure way to judge leadership is a long track record of successful leadership.

It isn't unusual for young leaders who start successful companies to struggle with leadership latter in their careers. This phenomena suggests that there is an element of luck to business.

Likewise, many professionals struggle with their leadership skills for years — only to experience leadership successes later in their careers.

4. Introverts can't lead

Introverts charge their batteries with reflection and thought. They thrive on close relationships but meeting new people drains their batteries. That doesn't mean they're bad at it.

Introverts are often strong characters who draw social influence. They're also thoughtful strategic planners.

Gandhi, Warren Buffett, Larry Page, Steven Spielberg, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Gates are all examples of successful leaders with introverted personalities.

5. Leaders are multitasking machines who don't need to focus

Leaders with a large number of responsibilities should delegate enough that they can focus on critical activities.

A leader who has 5 minute conversations all day and sends two word emails isn't typically effective.

6. Leadership is easy

Motivation speakers might tell you that all that leadership requires is believing in yourself and being brave enough to take the lead.

Believing in yourself and being brave are both great habits. However, they (in themselves) aren't enough.

There are at least 59 skills associated with modern leadership. Few leaders have mastered them all. However, it takes more than the desire to achieve.

Think of leaders as musicians. There are lots of musicians in the world with the desire to achieve. A good portion of musicians are highly skilled. Nevertheless, not everyone makes it.

Lucky for leaders, there are millions of good leadership positions. It's a lot easier to make a living being a leader than a musician.

7. Leaders win popularity contests

John F Kennedy was a leader in his Scout Troop. He was a popular student at the exclusive private schools he attended. He spent school vacations in all the right places.

Later he attended the London School of Economics, Princeton University and Harvard. At Harvard he won an exclusive and mysterious prize known as the "Freshman Smoker" in his first year. He also made the Dean's List.

His undergraduate thesis at Harvard "Why England Slept" became a best seller. It's rare for a undergraduate thesis to sell at all.

Kennedy had terrible health growing up but he still tried out for every team. He made the varsity swim team at Harvard.

On September 3, 1939 at the age of 22 he was in the House of Commons in London to witness England's declaration of war on Germany.

Despite health problems, Kennedy enlisted in the Navy in 1941. He became a war hero, saving the lives of his men after the boat he was commanding was attacked and sank.

In short, Kennedy represents everyone's image of leadership — he was a popular, capable person.

The reality is that most successful leaders aren't Kennedy. They weren't popular in high school. They don't attract women like Jacqueline Bouvier or Marilyn Monroe. They aren't war heroes.

A lot of leaders are more like Steve Jobs. A brilliant but troublesome student growing up. He was a geek in high school who went largely unnoticed.

As a college student he dropped out in and out of school and never had much money.

Later in life Jobs wasn't necessarily popular within the companies he ran. Nevertheless, he was a brilliant leader who lead Apple to become the World's largest company.

My point here is that there's no single path to leadership greatness. Leaders aren't always popular. There's a lot more to successful leadership than that.

This is the fourth in a 9-part series of posts called how to win at leadership.

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