Are leaders born or made? While leadership requires talent, it’s a set of skills that can be learned through training, reflection and experience. Here are some common myths about leadership, starting with why leaders are made, not born.
Leadership isn’t a birthright
What do Richard Branson, Barack Obama and Jacinta Ardern have in common? They are all able to make powerful connections with people through inspiration and motivation. You might call this the ‘X-factor’, but great leadership is defined by a series of features such as commitment and passion, accountability, integrity, creativity and innovation – all qualities that can be learned.
While some people show early signs of leadership capability, leaders are usually shaped by experience, not born ready. In the case of Huffington’s, Arianna Huffington, the female power-house who started out as a pace-setter style of leader, she learnt that ‘great leadership and creativity don’t come from the place of exhaustion and burnout.’ The media mogul shifted her leadership approach, aligning herself more with the servant leadership style which values diverse opinions, cultivates a culture of trust and expects leaders to act with humility.
Ms Huffington’s transition is an example that leadership is about continual learning and growth. Leaders need to self-reflect, develop and improve to be able to respond to critical social, economic and technological shifts. As Ms Huffington points out, “If you are not willing to fail and to learn and adapt along the way, you are not willing to be great!”
Leaders really don’t know it all
While it’s easy to think that the woman or man sitting on top of the mountain may be the fountain of all knowledge, the fact is there are limits to the wisdom of all leaders. After all, no-one can be an expert in everything. And the truth is nobody likes a know-it-all. Great leaders surround themselves with a skilled workforce and empower their team to help fill in the knowledge gaps.
Authenticity in leadership is a great trait, so being able to admit that you don’t know something will also help you make a real connection.
Leadership isn’t about leaders and followers – a common misconception – rather, it’s about leading with a sense of purpose and creating high performing teams.
The best leaders are on a continual journey of learning and look to their staff for the best results and understand their team’s potential. Research shows when team members are encouraged to contribute to problem-solving and are praised for their accomplishments, this leads to higher productivity.
Leaders don’t dream of success, they work for it
One of the most common myths about leadership is that leaders simply swan around while everyone else does the grunt work and the intellectual heavy lifting. Yet, the biggest role of leaders is to keep staff engaged and empowered, and deliver results – which takes hard work.
Leaders need to continually assess and analyse the organisational output, then plan and predict future activities to drive innovation. However, leadership priorities and the leader’s vision need to come to life through the actions of their team. Great leaders are skilled at delegating tasks and focus on the success of their people. This means they don’t feel the need to be on-the-tools and are happy to delegate responsibility to the most qualified members in their team while ensuring the right support and resources are provided for successful results. Bill Gates, the former CEO of Microsoft once said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
Leadership is all about the ability to influence others to deliver business results through providing direction and nurturing creativity and innovation, which can’t be achieved by putting your feet up.
Great leaders cast a light on others
One of the false impressions about leadership is that leaders need to be in the spotlight and lead from the front. It’s easy to think that in the age of social media and 24/7 connectivity that leaders ought to be a one-person publicity machine. But leaders don’t need to follow the Donald Trump playbook of leadership and incessantly tweet their personal movements or the actions of their organisation.
Great leadership often occurs without fanfare and happens behind the scenes. Strategic leaders will ensure that organisational goals are met by quietly driving the ship towards their intended destination. You don’t have to be charismatic or an extrovert to be a great leader either – many successful leaders like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have been described as introverts. In fact, research shows that introverted leaders can be more effective in certain circumstances, debunking another myth about leadership.
Apple’s, Steve Jobs may have been the ultimate icon for charismatic leadership, however, there are plenty of examples of understated leaders who have achieved excellence. His name may not be top-of-mind, but George Cain, the CEO of Abbott Laboratories turned a family business into a health-care giant, eclipsing industry heavy-weights Merck and Pfizer.
While the leadership limelight can be tempting with dizzying accolades and attention, the best leaders know to illuminate the achievements of their team. Leading an organisation isn’t about being a one man or woman band, it’s about letting others have a go on stage. Walt Disney, the founder of the Walt Disney Company attributed his success to teamwork, not individual genius. Understanding that he could never be successful alone he stated, “Whatever we accomplish belongs to our entire group, a tribute to our combined effort.”
Leaders need time to reflect
The myth would have us believe that leaders are super-heroes who are always ready to don their cape and save the day. The reality is somewhat different, with individuals in leadership positions needing to stop and reflect. Arianna Huffington rallies against a culture of being constantly plugged in and warns, “If we cannot disconnect, we cannot lead.”
To foster fresh ideas and enable lateral problem-solving, Ms Huffington argues that leaders need an opportunity to decompress and disconnect. She says humans cannot be sustainably productive in a constant state of crisis mode. So, whether it’s reading a book, getting a massage or taking a 5-minute nap, leaders need to get off the treadmill and recharge.
Growing leadership skills
Deakin’s Master of Leadership tackles all the misconceptions about leadership practice, covering both traditional and innovative leadership thinking. You’ll learn how to develop your leadership practice through reflective learning and evidence-based decision-making.
Learn more about the Master in Leadership online, our innovative Professional Practice degree where you can use your experience to gain a master’s degree. Call our enrolment team on 1300 043 524.