Myths are false beliefs that we pick up somewhere in our lives and hold as truth until we learn to think differently about them. You might’ve believed that the Easter Bunny was real because your parents told you so, and you believed they were authority figures who wouldn’t lead you astray. You didn’t stop believing this myth until you found out the truth (that the Easter Bunny doesn’t deliver a basket to your house while you sleep) and dispelled it. It could’ve been a fellow classmate, a friend, television, or another source, but regardless, you received information that made you question your beliefs to that point.
In our industry, and most businesses, there are plenty of myths surrounding the correct way to run a business — that there is one elusive “perfect” team member, that achieving one specific goal will solve all your problems, and so on. In the coaching and training that I facilitate, I always notice that false beliefs about leadership run rampant, so this month I want to address the topic of specific leadership myths.
Myth #1: If you’ve led effectively to this level, you can lead effectively to the next level. This is a huge misconception among leaders and managers. We all think that because we were able to lead and grow our companies to where they are now, we will be able to handle everything that comes in the future. The truth is, with growth come new, and sometimes very different, challenges. Suddenly, you might find yourself overwhelmed by trying to manage an increasing number of clients, team members, and daily issues.
As your company grows, you need to be constantly evaluating the effectiveness of each leader as well as the overall structure of the business. Positions can change and new leaders can be added. Don’t get stuck in doing things the way you’ve always done them or else you’ll get the results you’ve always gotten.
Myth #2: Certain personality types are better leaders. This myth has been around forever. No, you can’t be a socially awkward mess and effectively lead a team, but there are multiple personality types that are great leaders. Some are charismatic (think John F. Kennedy), some are transformational and passionate (Martin Luther King, Jr.), some are autocratic (Bill Gates), and some are a mixture of types, but it’s more about the qualities that make up individual personalities that define good leaders. Traits like being honest, collaborative, creative, engaging, and confident are more important than falling into one specific personality category.
Having the ability to effectively delegate and communicate well with others is also crucial. When it comes down to it, the best leaders possess a specific skillset and a mindset, not a type of personality. These skills are also something that can be acquired; leadership traits are not genetic.
Another “personality type” myth is that extroverts are more suited to be leaders because they are more sociable, but multiple studies have been done that suggest some introverts are actually better leaders because they tend to listen more intently and give in-depth thought to situations that arise. It’s really about your company and the culture you want to create, not trying to fit leaders into a box based on their personalities.
Myth #3: Your team members desire leadership positions. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way about 10 years ago that this is a total myth. I had promoted a CSR at my company to an office manager position, thinking that she would be so excited to be making more money, have a fancier title, and be recognized for her hard work. She was a great CSR — personable, positive, high-energy, and empathetic.
She had been with the company for years, and as the business was growing, promoting her seemed like the logical thing to do. She accepted the position, but ended up leaving the company not long after her promotion. She wasn’t happy anymore but didn’t want to be “demoted” back to a CSR position, where she enjoyed the job. In hindsight, I should’ve really examined her desire for the job, done more of an interview with her for the office manager position, and even interviewed outside of the company if I was having second thoughts after that.
Be careful whom you promote; not everyone wants to be a leader. Keep in mind that it’s much harder to take away a promotion than to give one, so they need to understand exactly what their new responsibilities will be and show some excitement about it. Sometimes the right person for the job simply isn’t a current team member.
Myth #4: Leaders need to have it all together. Many leaders and managers I work with place unnecessary pressure on themselves to have all the answers and know how to do everything, putting on a perfect image for their team members to follow. In reality, the sooner you admit that you don’t have it all figured out, the quicker you are leaving yourself open to grow as a person and a leader.
Some of the best leaders and managers aren’t necessarily the people with the most education or knowledge, and, honestly, nobody expects you to be perfect. To be truly effective, you just need to be resourceful and be able to find the answers. Most great leaders have a strong network of peers who they can turn to when experiencing challenges or if they are simply looking for a better way to do something. Feeling like you are “on an island” will just lead to frustration and spinning your wheels. Seek out a group of people who understand you, are moving forward in positive directions, and will help you feel supported.
I’ve coached many business owners in my Titanium Club through understanding that a perfect leader doesn’t exist; the best ones simply maximize their resources and constantly strive to be the best within their unique abilities. Team members respond best to leaders who are real and honest, anyway, so stop trying to uphold some unattainable image of perfection.
I’ve seen these four myths cause so many problems in companies. Don’t fall victim to believing them to be true in your business. Go into the rest of 2017 knowing the truth about these things, and I’m sorry if I had to be the one to break it to you about the Easter Bunny.
This article was originally titled “Making a leader” in the February 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.