I feel for those young people who are thirsting for advice on how to improve their leadership skills. What is effective leadership? Where do you turn for trusted information? Who’s leadership narrative do you believe?
It’s overwhelming to say the least. Google “leadership” and you are presented with way too many sources that can reasonably be consumed—that is, if you can actually find a source that sounds good to you.
These are 5 myths about effective leadership that are promulgated by most pundits of the craft.
You Don’t Need Charisma
There is a view that a good leader must possess the aura of charisma; that quality that they have to WOW! the person they are engaging with.
I would characterize the common view of charisma as “communications on steroids” and a classic case of style over substance.
If you’re wanting to build your leadership skills, DO NOT put “I need to be more charismatic” on your list of things to improve on.
What worked for me was honest emotion (to be genuinely passionate about what you are talking about), simplicity (to talk about things in simple terms that people can understand) and informality (to be real—NOT SLICK—in what you say and how you say it).
Charisma is for showmanship, it’s not for effective leadership. I didn’t think Steve Jobs was charismatic, did you?
You Don’t Need Vision
Great leaders possess the almost indescribable talent of being able to “see” into the future and “know” what the success ingredient for their organization is. Right?
Well, there are perhaps a few individuals who (in retrospect) had this gift—Jobs is the only one that comes to mind—but for most of us common leaders the vision thing is a non-starter.
At the time Jobs was spouting off about carrying music around on a device, did anyone say “WOW! This guy has vision”? No! It only became apparent later (and after a series of other device innovations) that his view of what customers would desire was extraordinary—and I would suggest that if Apple hadn’t executed on his plan, his “vision” label might never have been gifted to him.
Having vision is NOT a leadership requisite because it is only realized in retrospect. You can’t learn this skill; other competencies provide the opportunity to earn the vision label after you have achieved amazing things.
You Don’t Need To Delegate
Leadership school teaches you that you must be good at delegating tasks to others. That’s what effective leadership is all about, isn’t it? In my view I see leaders delegating too much.
Be careful, there is a significant difference between constructive delegation and abdication. Appropriate delegation occurs when the leader hands off tasks that better fit the competencies of the people that report to them, but the outcomes are carefully monitored and managed by the leader.
Delegatory abdication, on the other hand, occurs when the leader hands something off and quickly dismisses any accountability for the results.
I have seen many leaders in my time abdicate their responsibility under the name of delegation.
Is delegation an appropriate skill of an effective leader? YES, but it comes with staying involved with what is handed off and holding the person accountable.
You Don’t Need Do Command
Maybe it’s a General Patton infatuation, but it’s common to portray an amazing leader as being a tough commander dude.
This is the person who takes charge almost with brute force and singlehandedly orchestrates the outcome everyone is delighted with; they are at the top of the pyramid and there’s no question about who’s in charge.
This is the leader who acts, disposes instructions and who spends little time asking for input and suggestions—one who stands alone and is almost divinity-possessed in the face of crisis.
The commander leader is old school; who rose to adulation in wartime not in the conduct of “normality”.
Today, the commander should be Number 2 in identity, with servant-ship in the light. You don’t have to be great commander to be a standout leader; focus on asking people “How can I help?” rather than commanding them to “Do this!” The commander is not part of the recipe for effective leadership.
You Don’t Need Clarity
This myth deals with the notion that a great leader needs to provide precise direction in terms of the organization’s future; they need to provide absolute focus on what the end of the journey looks like.
Well, it’s not required; in fact it’s a negative. Searching for clarity is a time consuming activity with a purpose that can never be achieved. In an environment of chaotic, rapid and unpredictable change, how can any future be perfectly clear?
The standout leader is ok with a fuzzy idea of where they should go. They understand the importance of executing on a chosen path and learning on the run whether it was the right choice; that making adjustments to a “just about right” plan is more important than wasting time searching for a clear path that doesn’t exist.
You DO Need To Micromanage
Effective leaders are supposed to deal with the BIG issues in an organization. Building strategy, overseeing financing, negotiating mergers and acquisitions and managing the board of directors would qualify as key roles in their job description.
But what about the so-called “little things” that require their personal fingerprint to get done the right way? Nope, they get delegated because the book on leaders says don’t micromanage. Effective leadership is about letting go, right?
Leaders are encouraged to not dabble in the details because they can be more effectively dealt with by the more junior crowd of manager.
That’s a myth. There are some (not all) matters that require the leader’s active involvement in order to produce the exact outcome needed. For example, articulating exactly what “the customer moment” looks like for employees is something great leaders do regularly.
They spend time with customer contact people on the frontline describing the behaviours necessary to WOW! a customer; they choose not to allow this very crucial element of their organization’s strategy to be handled by junior managers. They know that the right consistent outcome of a customer moment of truth needs the view from the top, and they dive in and provide the direction themselves.
If you want to step up your leadership game, be careful to avoid these 5 myths propagated by the pundit crowd; which can stultify your efforts to take your skills to the next level.
The original version of this article was first published on Be Different or Be Dead.