Stereotypes are plentiful when it comes to leadership. Some might like to think of a brave trailblazer, unafraid of any dangers ahead. Or maybe a brilliant mind creating something astounding in a dingy garage. Or even the brash, cutthroat character that can talk his or her way out of anything.
It’s of course more complicated than that, and all varieties of people achieve business success. With that in mind, we took a look at some common misconceptions about leadership. Here’s a sample.
The bosses are the only leaders
Let’s say there’s a company-wide meeting, one in which the CEO and other top officials are speaking, about a bold new initiative, or the results of the previous quarter or year. It’s only natural that employees in the audience assume that these are the leaders of the company, and to a large extent they are. But leaders should be found on multiple levels of any business, so they should be scattered throughout that audience. Megan Tull writes about this for The Huffington Post.
“… Everyone can benefit from developing leadership skills,” Tull writes. “Skills such as how to work well with others, how to communicate effectively, how to be innovative and how and when to take risks will enable you to reach both your personal and professional goals. The best leaders are those who lead by example and inspire their team. They’re willing and actually do what they expect of others.”
‘Work smarter, not harder’
This is a common refrain in the business world, often used when long hours and burnout are discussed. But there can be a disconnect in that statement. The organization, planning and motivation that help a leader to work smarter doesn’t necessarily mean there will be less to do. Ekaterina Walter examines this for Forbes, saying she “never fully understood” the statement.
“There are definitely ways to be smarter about prioritizing your tasks effectively, planning your day wisely to increase your productivity, and, as a leader, to know when and what tasks to delegate,” she says. “But every single successful person I know [has] always worked very hard on realizing his/her dreams. … Nothing great has ever been achieved without working hard. True leaders lead by example, they are first in and last ones out, they are fully invested in the vision of their ventures and, through showing their dedication, they inspire people around them to show the same kind of commitment and display the same behaviors.”
The spotlight is constant
Not every leader wants to be up at the podium addressing the entire company. Some don’t need to be the face of the business. This may be a more old-school approach to leadership, but as Walter writes, there can be benefits to it.
“True leaders (whether they are at the helm or not) are humble,” she explains. “They don’t much care about the spotlight. They care about the results. And that comes from focus. Some of the greatest leaders of our time were simple men who shied away from limelight and yet have transformed industries and took their companies to new heights.”
Entrepreneurs are natural leaders
It takes drive and passion to start something new and see it through to a successful level. Yet entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily leaders right at that starting point. Learning more about leadership skills through training — especially when it comes to the art of communication — can be beneficial. Lolly Daskal examines this in a story for Inc.com.
“… Just because someone has a great and timely idea and can organize and operate a business, the truth is they aren’t necessarily a leader,” Daskal writes. “Even if you’re a world-class winner as an entrepreneur, you may find it hard to get people to see you as a leader within your organization. (This is a huge factor in the failure of so many start-ups.) You may need to work on your communication skills or expand your focus to include motivating the people on your team and helping them develop their own skills.”
Leadership and likability
The notion that “everyone wants to be liked” may very well be true. But a leader’s job is not to befriend the employees. This can be an adjustment for someone promoted into a leadership role, but those who do should keep their priorities in order, as Robin Madell writes for U.S. News & World Report.
“High-achieving women in particular often come out with lower likability scores when they are successful as leaders, particularly when they are perceived to behave in ways that violate gender stereotypes,” Madell says. “Instead of being viewed in a popularity contest, leaders should strive to be respected and trusted. ‘People confuse likability with trustworthiness,’ says Karen D. Walker, president and principal consultant of Oneteam Inc. ‘A leader doesn’t have to be a friend; a leader has to be someone whose judgment you trust and whose opinions you respect.’”
Management equals leadership
Managers that are elevated to high-level positions could be surprised at what they find. It can be a drastic change from the day-to-day pace, the interaction with and guidance of employees. As Daskal writes, “They’re actually two widely different (if interrelated) pursuits.”
“If you’re a manager, you’re focused on maintaining systems, processes, and best practices,” she writes. “But if you’re a leader, you’ll find that much of your time is spent working to influence people. They’re both important roles, but honestly they’re not the same thing.”
CEOs may be innovators, and they may show strong leadership and inspire their employees to do great things. That doesn’t mean they’re not worried about results. In a story for Inc.com, Brian Evje says “nonsense” to the notion that “leaders are fearless.”
“Fear is natural and necessary, and cannot be eliminated,” he writes. “Consider the perspective of writer David Whyte: Fears need to be identified so that we ‘are not blinded when we face an unknown.’ We do not have to overcome our fears; we need to know what we are afraid of. This requires courage, a word that originally means heart. To be courageous, therefore, means to be heartfelt.”
Extroverts and introverts
The natural tendencies of an extrovert can lend themselves well to leadership roles. As Madell writes, “Being born extroverted may give you a leg up in landing a leadership position, because you speak up and engage with larger groups more readily.” That’s not to say, however, that introverts are lagging behind in leadership capabilities. Madell quotes Nancy Martini, president and CEO of PI Worldwide, in her story.
“Introverted leaders thrive by validating initiative and listening carefully to suggestions,” Martini says in the story. “Doug Conant, the former president and CEO of Campbell’s Soup, is an introvert who has been celebrated for writing more than 30,000 personalized thank-you notes to his employees. It’s hard to imagine an extrovert doing that.”