July 27, 2016
Business Management  |  6 min read

Don’t Get Caught by any One of These 3 Leadership Myths

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Daniel Stewart

I recently heard a story about a woman who had a dream. In the dream, her husband gave her a beautiful necklace that she had always wanted. In the morning, she explained the dream to him and asked what he thought it meant. He smiled and said, “You’ll find out tonight!”

That evening, the husband came home with an elaborately wrapped gift. Full of anticipation, she slowly opened the thoughtful present. Much to her surprise, she discovered a book entitled, "A Guide to Understanding Dreams." (Uchtdorf, "Training Broadcast," 2012)

In our work with leaders, we find there are often misunderstandings about what they think great leaders do. Just like the husband felt his response was the right way to help his wife, leaders can think their approach is the right way for their teams.

Yet, if the leader is viewing the situation through incorrect or outdated leadership assumptions, they can miss the mark completely. They may deliver a decision or provide guidance, like a book to interpret dreams, when their people were expecting and needing something very different. Despite the best of intentions, sometimes leaders can behave in ways that make sense to them but not to their teams and employees.

The following are three large myths that can be deeply ingrained in the attitudes and behaviors of leaders. Being aware and debunking these detrimental assumptions can improve leadership performance and create more engaged team members.

Myth No. 1: I’ve already got the skills!

One of the biggest myths occurs when a leader thinks he/she already has all the needed skills. In other words, what determined their past success will be sufficient to create their future success.

Often organizations promote the best technically competent person to become the leader of the group. While this can make sense from a credibility and short-term performance perspective, it can send a message that business results and the person’s individual ability to achieve them are what is most valued by the organization. Therefore, the new leader will often strive to work hard, distribute individualized tasks, and have an extra focus on the areas and approaches he/she did in the past.

The challenge with this myth is new leadership responsibilities also usually require new skills and mindsets to be successful. Rarely do these new skills spontaneously show up. It involves deep shifts in how one spends their time and works with others.

For example, instead of getting things done on one’s own, it is getting work done through and with others. Instead of getting information for one’s own use, it is keeping everyone informed and being open to new ideas that come from a variety of sources. And instead of focusing on one’s own deadlines and consequences, it is making decisions and moving things forward involving multiple needs and often competing priorities.

The best way of addressing this myth is with clear expectations before and after a leadership promotion. While this is especially true for new leaders, it is also beneficial for leaders as they advance in their career regardless of level. Spelling out that leaders need to achieve both business and people results, that thinking and planning is important work, and that developing others is a critical role are important to clarify for leaders at every level.

Myth No. 2: As your leader, I will solve your problems!

One of the most popular Harvard Business School articles of all time is surprisingly about monkeys. The article by Bill Oncken entitled "Who Got the Monkey?" describes how each task or responsibility we have is like a monkey hanging on our back.

Each leader has lots of monkeys to deal with from one’s boss and other organizational demands. When an employee comes in and asks the leader to solve their problems, it is like they are adding more monkeys to the leader’s back. The leader might be tempted to solve the problem and be the hero, but that might not be the best approach.

The challenge is when a leader’s team gets into the habit of taking problems to their leader without first trying to solve things themselves. Add up all of these problems, and the leader can get bogged down with lots of issues (monkeys). By doing this, the team’s ability to be creative and to show initiative can also be limited.

There is a strong temptation to take on more than one can handle and to believe that a leader is expected to do it all. A leader needs to be selective about the problems they try and solve. The fact is successful leaders know how to not solve all the issues on their own. They focus on the biggest things that only they can solve. They leave the rest to others or let them go unresolved.

Myth No. 3: Mistakes mean I’m a bad leader!

Too often, there can be a widespread perception that leaders have all the right answers, and if they don’t, then they are bad leaders. Apparently, we want to believe omniscience is granted with every leadership promotion! While of course, this is not true, we too often think this should be the case.

This can happen in two ways:

The first way is when a leader is filled with fear of failure. In this state of insecurity, leaders may not reach out for input or guidance, relying on their own insufficient knowledge and not benefiting from the learnings of others.

The second way is when a leader is suffering from an overgrown ego. Leaders with this condition have the delusion that they can’t make a mistake because they have been sanctioned with organizational authority. Either way, leaders limit their own development and their team’s performance when they resist the knowledge that they are fallible.

Interestingly, leaders may admit in private that they often don’t know what to say or do, but they still might set the high bar of perfection for leaders above them. This is a strange double standard—allowing oneself to make a mistake, but rejecting others when they do.

To avoid this myth, leaders need to embrace the value of learning and a healthy level of humility.

Recognize that vulnerability is an endearing characteristic and essential to producing a productive team. Although it seems counter-intuitive, plan on making mistakes and set up time to review and learn from them.

Treat moments of uncertainty and surprise as opportunities to grow, not evidence of failure. Be honest with yourself about your areas to develop and actively seek ways to stretch yourself.

The road to remarkable leadership can be filled with many misperceptions. Seek to clear away these myths for yourself so you and your teams can reap the benefits of great leadership.

This article originally appeared in Stewart Leadership. 

This article was written by Daniel Stewart from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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