John C. Maxwell, leadership expert, lists seven common leadership myths in his book, The 360 Degree Leader.
Myth #1 – The Position Myth: “I can’t lead if I’m not at the top.”
Donald McGannon said, “Leadership is action, not position.” There is a common misconception that you must be in a formal position of authority as a manger, director, or boss in order to be a leader. So often, we have the idea that leadership is only for those people who are at the top. But, leadership isn’t just for those people. Leadership is for everyone because we are all leaders. “99% of all leadership occurs not from the top but from the middle of an organization,” argues John C. Maxwell.
Myth #2 – The Destination Myth: “When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead.”
If we develop the skills, thoughts, and habits of the person we want to become, that will prepare us to become that person. We can’t wait for the opportunity before we start preparing. If we wait to develop our leadership skills, we may never get the opportunity to be in a leadership position; and if we do lag, we won’t be prepared. Preparation must happen first so that opportunity presents itself. Bobby Unser noted, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
Myth #3 – The Influence Myth: “If I were on top, then people would follow me.”
Influence is like respect – it can only be earned, not demanded. A formal position of authority actually has very little to do with our leadership and influence. If we wait until we are in a formal position of authority to start developing as a leader, then we may never get there; and if we do get there, we may not be as effective of leaders. Mark Miller said, “You can lead with or without a title. If you wait until you get a title, you may wait forever.”
Myth #4 – The Inexperience Myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll be in control.”
We overestimate the amount of control that comes with being at the top. Until you are in a position of authority, you believe that things would be different if you were in control. It’s not until you start going higher up that you realize that it still comes down to influence; and influence doesn’t automatically happen with a position.
Myth #5 – The Freedom Myth: “When I get to the top, I’ll no longer be limited.”
Having a position doesn’t mean that you will be free. In fact, many times we must take on responsibility before we gain authority; and the responsibility gets heavier as we grow in an organization. Rights decrease as you climb in an organization while responsibilities increase.
Myth #6 – The Potential Myth: “I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader.”
We should strive to reach our potential rather than the top of the organization. Focusing on developing our potential will create opportunities for growth. Focusing on reaching the top of an organization will limit opportunities. The majority of people will make more of an impact from somewhere other than the top.
Myth #7 – The All-or-Nothing Myth: “If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead.”
We can make an impact from wherever we are in an organization. You don’t have to be the top leader to be a leader and make a difference. We can all add value right where we are; and in helping others, we will help ourselves. If we refuse to become a leader because we don’t believe we can get to the top, we are limiting ourselves from reaching our potential and we are limiting the impact we can have on others.
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