There’s always a new buzzword in the professional sphere to throw into your resume, interviews, and conversations with colleagues. For decades, one that’s been misused is ‘leadership.’ While, yes, being a leader is an essential requirement of being in charge of a company, many struggle to understand what it actually means and entails truly.
As Iwona Ordon, the founder and CEO of TØY, explains, part of this is thanks to the lack of professional development in many organizations, yet many employers stress the importance of leadership. “Everyone is expected to have leadership skills to get a job these days. So by default, a lot of people ‘fake it until they — hopefully — make it, instead of really think through what it takes to really get there,” she continues. “Unfortunately, we then end up getting quantity over quality.”
So what are the biggest myths about leadership? Here, we spoke with entrepreneurs and executives and career experts:
Myth: You have to be an expert at everything in the business to be a leader.
While your business knowledge is essential and vital, it’s not the end-all-be-all to being a leader, says Teresa Sabatine, a leadership and empowerment strategist for women. How come? As she explains, going from an individual contributor to the next level in your career requires investing in soft skills, interpersonal skills and the ability to listen to, learn from and delegate to others.
“Leadership requires you to identify the experts around you and then motivate, encourage, and lead them to use their expertise to drive progress. It is most important that you cultivate talent and set a vision they can tap into and execute,” she adds.
Myth: There is one perfect type of leader.
Based on our own personal experiences and background, we each have a specific vision of what a leader is and isn’t. While some see a totalitarian authority, others see a charismatic ringleader. And guess what? Both could be effective.
To put it simply, different people lead differently — and that’s precisely how it should be, according to Joe Fischer, the CEO and founder of Greetabl. “There’s no one profile of what every leader should look like across the board,” he continues. “That doesn’t mean that any person can fill any role, but it does mean that the right attitude and aptitude for a leader will vary depending on the team, company culture, and requirements of the specific role.”
Myth: You have to fake it until you make it
When we doubt ourselves, our abilities and our skills, we reach out to a trusted friend or mentor for reassurance. To boost your spirits, they may suggest a ‘fake it until you make it’ approach. While it’s well-meaning, it can have the opposite impact on developing a leadership mindset, according to Kristina Libby, the chief science officer at Hyper Giant.
“This idea is not only misleading but can be poisonous to your career growth,” she shares. “Instead, acknowledge when you don’t know something and admit that you are reaching out to learn more. Showing your willingness to learn can be just as good for your career as pretending you know what you’re doing.”
Myth: As a leader, you have to hide your emotion
While many professionals worry about allowing their personality to shine through at the office, it’s worse to hide everything you feel and believe, says Sabatine.
As she explains, your emotions are your greatest superpower. “The fact that you care is going to inspire your people to care. Plus, emotions are what drives people’s behavior; if you aren’t tapped into your own emotion, you are not going to be able to understand what drives your employees, your clients, or your competitors,” she explains.
The image of a leader being quiet, closed-off, and inaccessible is a thing of the past since competitive professionals seek to work for a company that prioritizes values. “More and more the leaders that are succeeding are the ones that are putting their passions and beliefs at the forefront of what they do,” she continues. “Leadership is about instincts, looking at a complex problem and being able to see multiple solutions and opportunities and then confidently drive change. You can’t have instinct without emotional awareness.”
Myth: You have to make your job your life
You probably have someone in your life who has made their job their life. They are always working, always too busy for social interactions, always worrying about the next meeting, project or step. It’s hard to form a friendship with this type of person, and while you may believe this extreme hard work makes them a leader, it doesn’t.
As Libby says, people whose entire life, meaning and sense of accomplishment come from their job not only end up being boring but are often poor performers. “Being a person with a full life outside of your career makes you more interesting to those in your career and makes you more capable. When you can string together ideas across various industries, you create a unique and valuable seat at the table,” she shares.
Myth: Leadership is more about what you say than what you do
Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume says it’s important to note that while most people assume a leader must hold a position of authority, that’s not the case. “People follow leaders because they’re inspired,” she shares. “Often, a leader sets the example with the work being done and the values driving their work.”
This means the title doesn’t always matter since it’s less about talking and more about walking the walk. “You need to develop strong relationships with those around you and have a clear vision as to what you want to accomplish. Yes, your words will help encourage others to follow you, but your actions will speak louder,” she continues. “Lead by example rather than by your speech.”