Misconceptions About Leadership

Misconceptions About Leadership

The Most Common Leadership Misconceptions

In the previous 200 years, we have achieved enormous progress in nearly every human endeavor. However, it appears that we have yet to perfect the skill of outstanding leadership, based on its scarcity observed virtually everywhere. What is the issue now? Perhaps it all starts with how we define and interpret the word. The three largest misunderstandings, in my opinion, are as follows:


Leadership entails inspiring people to accomplish a goal.

I frequently begin my leadership workshops by splitting the audience into small groups and asking them to complete the statement “Leadership is the act of…” in 15 words or fewer. Regardless of the size of the audience or the location of the lecture, each group produces a nearly identical phrase. A composite leadership definition generated from the accumulation of all of these phrases over time might look like this:


Setting common goals and inspiring/motivating others to work together to achieve them is what leadership is all about.

Although the language changes slightly from group to group, the core of leadership is nearly always the same: leadership is about what a leader must accomplish for others.

Is that true?

When we consider personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr., it is clear that they did not harm others.


They did, however, set extremely specific goals for themselves and drove themselves to work tirelessly toward reaching those goals. As a result, they established themselves as great role models, motivating and inspiring others to join them on their adventure.



My life is my message – Mahatma Gandhi



Having the power to make a difference is what leadership entails.

I also like to have folks name their country’s leader as a fun activity. Their President or Prime Minister is named almost quickly. I then ask them to name the CEO, President, or Chairman of their firm, and they respond without hesitation. However, when I ask a third question – is leadership the same as position and authority? – I get a different answer. In return, I am met with eerie quiet. They’ve begun to consider things.


The issue is that we immediately presume the person in a group with the most formal power is the leader. Is the most powerful person, however, always in charge? Is leadership defined by one’s position or by one’s actions?

Because we think that leadership is about persuading people to do something, it is easy to assume that the person with the most formal power is the leader.


This erroneous notion was the catalyst for me to create Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, a book that I published 11 years ago. Again, if we look at Gandhi, Mandela, King, and other great leaders throughout history, we can clearly see that they never held political office, never had official power or authority, and never led armies for the most, if not all, of their life. The amount of formal power one possesses has very little to do with great leadership. Despite this, the majority of individuals grumble about not having enough power to make a change.



Gandhi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King were three of the most well-known instances of forceful leadership in the twentieth century, but they were not about power. Their capacity to inspire millions stemmed from their unwavering commitment to a set of principles they never compromised and a desire to achieve something bigger than themselves. They were no longer afraid since their mission was based on deeply held ideals and was larger than themselves. They never gave up because they were not frightened. They never failed because they never gave up. No one gave them names, offices, or authority; they were the source of their own power.


I never lose. Either I win, or I learn. – Nelson Mandela

Leadership equals following.

We’ve been misinterpreting leadership as followership for as long as I can remember. We have not only mixed the two up, but we have also rewarded followership as if it were leadership. Without even realizing it, we do it every day. People argue with me when I tell them they are guilty of fostering and rewarding followership in the guise of leadership. They go mute again when I offer them instances. Here’s how it works:


When our children follow and listen to us, we as parents are ecstatic. We don’t like it when kids become too rebellious. A kid quickly learns that the greatest way to be liked and rewarded is to obey her parents’ directions to the letter. As parents, we feel we know best what is best for our children, and we unconsciously begin to teach them to be good followers. We do hope, though, that they will grow up to be excellent leaders.


When the youngster gets to school, the same misunderstanding persists in the classroom. In most classes across the world, which student is the teacher’s pet? The one who is the most obedient. Not only that, but the most attentive child is generally named class prefect or monitor. In the guise of leadership, we reward followership once again.

Some firms relate employee engagement survey results to incentives and promotions in the workplace.


This is a wonderful idea, because a firm should assess and reward leadership effectiveness if it wants its managers to be successful leaders. Isn’t looking at employee engagement survey results a better method to assess leadership effectiveness? Wrong! What kinds of activities do managers participate in if bonuses, promotions, and other benefits are related to satisfaction survey results? Pleasing. They try to avoid making difficult decisions that are necessary for the business but may be unpopular with employees. Pleasing is a sign of subservience rather than leadership.



Even in boardrooms, the problem remains. When a CEO submits a new strategic direction and plan to the Board of Directors for approval, the following are often the first questions the Board asks: Is this a well-established standard? How many other companies in our sector have previously demonstrated this model? The Board is fast to adopt the strategy if the CEO can provide instances of past accomplishments. They emphasize, “Follow best practice.” The Board, on the other hand, is uneasy if the CEO claims no one else has done it yet.


The next Bill Gates, like the next Larry Page or Sergey Brin, will not create an operating system or a search engine. Copying others increases the world’s size from 1 to n by adding more of the same thing. When you try something new, though, you move from 0 to 1. Tomorrow’s victors will not win by aggressively fighting in today’s market; instead, they will be able to avoid competition entirely since their firms will be unique.

— Peter Thiel, PayPal’s Founder



We severely misunderstand what leadership is in the first place, which is why effective leadership is so rare despite billions being spent on leadership development each year across the world. We’ve been teaching all the incorrect things because of the aforesaid misunderstandings. On themes like Influencing Skills, Collaboration, Best Practice Replication, and Emotional Intelligence, there are plenty of courses and case studies available, but they all miss the point.



I believe the examples in this post demonstrate that leadership is not about persuading or ordering people, nor is it about adopting best practices. Instead of simply living one’s own life, leadership is about guiding others. How does one go about doing so? By cultivating a burning ambition to build a better future and refusing to give up when things get rough. To put it another way, leadership entails:

Visualizing and pursuing a goal that is founded on those principles and larger than oneself, and never sacrificing them, no matter what.


Based on the strength that comes from believing in a values-based mission and staying resilient in the face of adversity.
What are your thoughts on the matter? To obtain a feel of where you are on your journey, consider the following questions:

What does genuine leadership mean to you? Do you like to influence, manage, and motivate others, or do you want to motivate yourself to make a better future?
Is it your official authority or your beliefs and purpose that has provided you with the most power over others?
Have you ever mistakenly rewarded followership for leadership?
Have you been merely existing, or have you been actively pursuing your goals?

Myth #1 about leadership

The first misunderstanding is that leaders are heroic figures who save businesses. Leadership is frequently linked with decisive, dynamic individuals who save enterprises, win battles, and so alter history’s path.

In many myths, tales, and other stories, the leader is portrayed as a hero. Leaders, on the other hand, are not necessarily the heroes that save a company. Of sure, senior executives or leaders can assist a firm in regaining its footing, but they seldom do so alone. It’s about facilitating creativity by organizing a dynamic process and cooperation.


Leaders aren’t usually the saviors of their organizations.

Change-makers are required, but they may be found anywhere: in managers, professionals, workers, or even in consumers who are involved. People who are really searching for new ways to do things, who are willing to take risks, are the ones that lead change.



Misconception #2 about leadership

The second misunderstanding is that individuals in positions of power are the agents of change. This idea is especially prevalent in organizations when the CEO has a strong personality. It originates from a traditional organizational mindset that emphasizes hierarchy and regulations. Individuals’ official responsibilities and status are accorded a lot of weight.

This is just incorrect, because top executives and leaders are not always synonymous. If they were, it would suggest that others are incapable of leading.


True innovation generally starts with unofficial network leaders who try new things.

However, informal leaders with broad networks both within and outside the company are frequently active in innovation efforts. These unofficial leaders help to promote new ideas. This isn’t to say that top executives aren’t vital in the innovation process; they frequently help shape a company’s brand and can open up opportunities for new ideas. True innovation, on the other hand, generally begins with experimentation by informal network leaders.


Misconception #3 about leadership

The final myth is that you can only truly begin to lead after you have official decision-making authority. Many managers who have risen to the top of the corporate ladder quickly realize that their position is not what they expected. They are overburdened by the amount of external interactions and pressures they are subjected to.

It turns out that overseeing all parts of a firm and being involved in all of its decisions is impossible. Furthermore, the information that reaches senior executives is frequently inaccurate. Every piece of information that makes it to the top has been filtered — sometimes with the greatest of intentions, and occasionally for nefarious reasons.


The more one’s power, the more difficult it is to put it to good use.

A company’s top management has unquestionably the greatest formal power, yet the more power one possesses, the more difficult it is to exercise it. Giving commands might cause resistance, and putting subordinates on a leash can be demoralizing. Such behavior is generally indicative of a failure by senior leaders to convey their strategic vision and distribute jobs clearly.


Misconception #4 about leadership

The fourth misunderstanding is that there are two types of people: leaders and followers. Leadership, according to conventional wisdom, entails influencing followers’ behavior in order to achieve the organization’s objectives. Many ideas exist about the characteristics of leaders, their behaviors, and what makes them effective.

When followers operate independently of leaders, they are more effective.


The behavior of followers has been examined in recent years. A intriguing finding is that followers are more productive when they operate independently of leaders and take an active role in their own development. Followers have the ability to take the lead and to undermine others’ leadership.

Leadership is a two-way street between leaders and followers, and leaders are most effective when they delegate authority to others. Others will be able to take the lead in obtaining outcomes and implementing changes as a result of this.



Misconception #5 about leadership

The sixth misunderstanding is that managers and leaders are two distinct types of individuals who live in two different universes, with managers doing things correctly and leaders doing things correctly. If this were true, everyone would aspire to be an inspirational leader, but no one would aspire to be a competent manager.

Leadership and management, on the other hand, are not different realms since they both have the same goal in mind: to maintain a firm financially healthy and future-oriented. Managing a company needs not just inspirational leadership but also superior management abilities.


Misconception #6 about leadership
The sixth misunderstanding is that change can only happen under duress. Many management manuals incorrectly state that creating a feeling of urgency is required before employees would be prepared to change. Of course, if a firm is in trouble, it is critical to inform employees of the situation.

The sixth misunderstanding is that change can only happen under duress.



Leaders will always exploit a crisis to effect change, but the more intriguing issue is why the catastrophe was not anticipated. Perhaps warning signals of a problem were overlooked, or internal controls failed to function properly. That would be a sign of poor leadership.

A catastrophe can serve as a catalyst for change, but it is not a need. Change, on the other hand, needs specific goals and a long-term vision. Organizing goals, rather than a crisis, is the goal of change here.



Myth #7 about leadership
The sixth misunderstanding is that leadership entails directing the actions of others. In reality, it is one’s own self-direction that is most important. The key is to keep one’s ego in control and avoid becoming a hero. Leaders guide their own lives by reflecting on their own experiences. Who, what, and where shaped you into the person you are now? What assumptions do you have as a result of this?

Leaders that are effective encourage open communication.



Effective leaders encourage open communication on how they are seen and how they are performing. They inquire of others around them about what they did well, what they did to aid others, what they should not have done, and what they should do differently in the future. To put it another way, effective leaders are always seeking for new methods to better understand themselves and their abilities.

To summarize, leaders are not superhumans who save businesses, and they are not only found at the top of organizations. Anyone in a company may take the lead, give events significance, and spark innovation. It’s a fallacy to believe that one can only lead from a position of great power.



The difference between leaders and followers is likewise a false one. People in operational roles can drive innovation processes, which can then be followed up on by formal leaders. Leaders and managers are similar in that they both work for the same corporate goals.

Change does not require urgency, but it does require an inspirational vision of the future, as well as an unrelenting dedication to self-improvement.