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Four Surprising Leadership Myths

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Four Surprising Leadership Myths

What makes a great leader? It's a hard question to answer. Here are four "myths" concerning leadership that you can definitely strike off your to-do list.


1. If you are a star performer in your field or discipline, you will surely be a star leader of others. Not so. The skills, attributes and even motivations required to lead people aren't the same as those that are required to be a successful individual contributor. Consider this: if the roles and skills weren't so different, it would be a walk in the park for someone to move seamlessly from being a great violin player to being a great conductor. Leadership requires an emotional and intellectual shift that will quickly separate effective motivators from ineffective ones. Making the transition from being an individual contributor to being a leader if the workplace equivalent of swimming from New York to London alone, without a life jacket.

2. Emotions should be left outside the workplace. Leading people is messy! People are unpredictable! Every person is unique! And that means that leadership can be complex, fun, interesting, frustrating and—yes—messy. Life happens, and it's full of triumphs and tragedies that can happen to any of us at any time. We can't predict surprises. Leaders have to be ready for just about anything and everything.

Like it or not, every person brings his or her emotions to work. Emotions are contagious; we catch flyby emotions more quickly than we catch a cold. The idea that we can keep emotions out of the workplace is a lot of bunk. Besides, we want people to feel when it suits us, right? We want them to be loyal, grateful, ethical, engaged and kind to the people they work with and for. It's just the inconvenient feelings that we would like people to leave at the door. It doesn't work that way. We all bring our 24-hour, lifelong selves into work, like it or not.

3. The best way to make change is from the top. The painful truth is that efforts to bring change in organizations fail about 70 percent of the time. The status quo has a powerful, almost surreal stranglehold on people and organizations. We like to think we're open to new ideas, but it's often not true. And the number-one reason change efforts fail is because people resist them. That's because our life experiences have shown us that too many people with authority over our work lives make lousy decisions, based on lousy information, and that means lousy results.

4. Being really smart and/or well-educated is all that really matters. Not even close. It's not enough to be really, really, smart. Emotional intelligence matters a heck of a lot—more even than IQ, particularly if you want to have healthy and productive relationships. Bad and ineffective leaders can create a lot of damage. Good and effective leaders can accomplish incredible feats with their followers. If no one is following you, you aren't leading! You can manage all kinds of tasks that might involve schedules, money, projects, budgets, and so on, and yet everything you do with your staff and other stakeholders involves relationships. How well those relationships work has a lot to do with how much TRUST is at the center of them and that has everything to do with EQ not IQ.

Leadership authority Roxi Bahar Hewertson is CEO of Highland Consulting Group and  
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