Leadership Lessons: False beliefs and misconceptions about leaders and management careers ·
There are many misconceptions about leaders, leadership, and building management careers. These misconceptions are very limiting and prevent too many people from even thinking about starting a management career or becoming a leader. I have listed and broken down the most common misconceptions below.
“You need to have special traits or characteristics to lead.”
Not true: Leaders come with a variety of traits and characteristics. They can be extroverts or introverts, be charismatic or less so. There are as many types of leaders as there are people leading, and there is no one set of character traits required of a leader. While it is true that some traits make it easier to succeed as a leader, none are absolutely required, and most of them can be learned anyway. If you have the will to do it and at least average mental capabilities (IQ+EQ), you are good to go.
“Leadership is a skill that can’t be learned.”
Not true: Leadership is absolutely a skill (or a set of skills) that can be learned by most people. If you want to learn more about the important qualities of strong leaders or what are the most important leadership skills, you should read these articles: Essential Leadership Skills: What are good leaders made of? and Become a Leader: 12 Most important leadership skills. Anyone who tells that leadership is a skill that can’t be learned doesn’t really understand leadership.
“You need a certain education or university degree to be a leader.”
Not true: There are a great many leaders working in their own companies or as hired professionals who do not have any kind of formal education. Bill Gates did not go to university, neither did Walt Disney, and both of them have changed the world with their leadership. A few more familiar names are Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, who never completed their tertiary education. I also have several close friends and colleagues who work in key leadership positions, with high school as their highest level of education. The modern technology and IT industries are very relaxed on education requirements, but some other industries, such as finance, law, medicine, or engineering naturally have stricter requirements for formal education and certifications. However, even in those industries, only the basic level of education is often required to work in the top positions if you just have the skills to do the job and the means to get there. Formal education can help you to get to higher levels in a management career, but if you do not have it, don’t let it slow you down or be an excuse to not put in the effort and succeed. Additional degrees, such as MBAs etc., can help you to get to certain positions, but many leaders do perfectly fine without them, or acquire them at some later point on their careers while getting sponsored by their companies.
“I must have good existing relationships, a network, or connections to get a management position.”
Not true: While it helps to have a network and good connections, it is by no means necessary, especially for the first steps of your management career. The most important thing is that you create the relationships and network while you are working in your current company and then start extending that network to other companies as you go.
“Leaders are somehow different people, and have special skills or knowledge that I don’t have.”
Partly false: Leaders are no more special than anyone else, and they were not born as leaders. They are just regular people who wanted to lead and were willing to put in the work, acquire the required skills, and positioned themselves correctly when leadership positions were available – or they built their own companies to lead.
Partly true: Leaders do have some special knowledge, but it is all something that everyone can learn. Those who have made it there either figured out the best ways by themselves, got help from their mentors, or studied the required information from other sources, such as schools, books, and courses. This is indeed specialised knowledge, but it can be attained by anyone. Some gain their positions due to a stroke of luck, but those who know what they want should not leave it up to chance: They should make sure that they build up the necessary skills, traits and mindsets, and then take all the steps to get where they want to be as efficiently as possible. It is all about the knowledge, practice, and will to put in the effort.
“Leaders are born that way and are genetically predisposed to have special character traits.”
Not true: No one is born to lead; leaders are made through their life experiences and choices, and they learn their leadership skills through study and training like everyone else. While genetics might help, it doesn’t determine who can lead and who can’t.
“My company and management want / don’t want to promote me to a management position.”
This is situational: If they see that you are providing greater value to the company by staying in your current position, they might want to keep you there as long as possible, and thus they don’t want to promote you. To be a good candidate for a promotion, you have to demonstrate that you would be more valuable to the company in a higher position than you are currently working in. I will tell you more about this later in the book and teach you how to turn the situation to your favour one way or another.
“Luck is the deciding factor in who will get promoted and succeed in advancing their management career.”
Not true: This is completely false and is most commonly preached by those who don’t want to take responsibility for their career and work and have no idea what to do to get promoted. There are many things you can and should do, and there are certain “trade secrets” that you should know to make sure you are doing the right things to put you on track to get promoted quickly. Luck might be a deciding factor in when and where opportunities present themselves, but how to capitalise on them depends on knowledge, proper preparation, and appropriate actions executed at the right time. You can also create your own opportunities for management positions in certain situations, as you will learn later in this book.
“Leaders have to sacrifice their whole life for their work and career advancement. “
Not true/depends on your choice: While this is not necessarily true, it is often the case, as most successful leaders enjoy what they do, and willingly make work one of the top priorities in their lives.
If you are committed to making quick advancements in your career, you may need to focus all your attention on this goal for a certain period of time, while working hard and putting in the long hours. However, if you choose your priorities wisely, build up your skills, and make sure that you have enough freedom to choose how and why you work, you will not get trapped by your work so easily and will be able to live a balanced life as a leader or a manager. There is of course a certain amount of sacrifice needed for this kind of work, but then again, a certain amount of sacrifice is needed for anything meaningful in life in general. Also, sacrifices made for the right reasons don’t feel so hard and will bring you great rewards. Finding the right balance is the key.
“Those who work hardest and put in the longest hours will get promoted.”
Not true: Those who bring the most value, who can demonstrate that they would bring even more value by leading others, will be promoted. The number of hours you put in is not a proper measure of the value of your work. On the contrary, excessive extra hours can show that you are not able to cope with your tasks in a normal working day, and thus are underperforming. This varies greatly between companies and industries, but in general the consensus is that value is more important than hours spent.
There are occasions when you need to put in long days and nights to get a project finished on time, but this should be an exception rather than a rule and should be recognised as a failure in planning or execution. The science tells us that long days, especially without enough breaks, result in diminishing returns, as productivity and creativity greatly suffer from extended periods of working. It is much better to focus on showing results than showing yourself constantly present in the workplace.
“You have to suck up to management to get promoted.”
Not true (situational): There are many kinds of leaders, and some are susceptible to suck ups. You can however build a good trusting relationship with your management team without sucking up, just by providing lots of value and helping your company to succeed. This is what you should be aiming for. If you build your reputation by sucking up, you build it only with those people you suck up to, while at the same time harming your reputation and influence amongst your colleagues who see through your actions. What do you think happens when management rewards your sucking up by giving you a team of your former colleagues to lead, and they have absolutely no trust or respect towards you as they have seen through your act? Instead of sucking up, I have gotten very good responses from many wonderful leaders just by standing up to them on the right occasions. You command respect when you are not afraid to speak your mind and stand behind your own opinions and decisions.
“I should be loyal and stay with my company so they will eventually reward me with a promotion.”
Not true: The best way to advance your career quickly is to always look for opportunities, wherever they may present themselves. Your current company and management might see that you are providing the best value by staying in your current position and thus want to keep you there as long as possible. In general, companies are willing to sacrifice employees for increased profits and, in the worst cases, for the companies’ survival in a heartbeat. Companies are not loyal to you and they do not have a conscience like human beings. They are entities built for making profit and have to be thought of as such when considering our loyalties as employees. A smart employee keeps his options open all the time, constantly looks for new opportunities inside and outside of his current company, and operates as a “free agent” as much as possible. Whenever you spot a better opportunity, you should consider it objectively, even if your old company is treating you fairly. If the tables were turned, there would be no fairness in business decisions on your company’s side, and thus there should be none from your side either. If someone is willing to pay more for your services and give you more interesting opportunities, you should take their offer. Companies have a significant upper hand as they control many aspects of their employees’ lives through work and rewards. You should look after yourself to get back some of that control by knowing your value and making companies compete for your services if needed.
“My company and management want the best for me and my career, and I can trust their guidance.”
Not True (situational): This depends greatly on your managers and company, but in general, your interests and career advancement are not the top priorities for the company or your manager. The company’s interest (and your management’s own interests) are placed almost without exception before yours, and if the interests are conflicting, yours will be the first to be sacrificed. Unfortunately, there are companies and managers who will blatantly lie or withhold significant information about important things to get what they want, and this will often happen at your expense. When you are considering significant moves for your career and need help on your decisions, it is best to find support outside of your current company to ensure that you get fair and objective guidance.
“You have to have a solid set of leadership skills to become a manager.”
Not true: Many new managers start with very basic or even no clear leadership skills and learn as they go. However, the more of the necessary skills you already have, the easier it is to get a management position.
“You have to be very intelligent to become a leader or manager.”
Not true: An average level of intelligence is more than enough for many leadership and management positions. While a certain amount of intellectual capacity will certainly be helpful, it is by no means absolutely required. A balanced combination of decent intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ) have actually been shown to be more beneficial in leaders than having a very high IQ and lower EQ. If you have a normal level of IQ and EQ, you are good to go.
“Leaders have to be cold, ruthless, selfish and/or greedy to succeed.”
Not true: The best leaders are the ones that people follow because of what they are. People will not follow cold and ruthless leaders willingly. The same goes for very selfish or greedy people. While in some situations these kinds of leaders can create good results, it is by no means a necessary or even recommended way of leading. Nowadays leadership thinking is based greatly on servant leadership or/and authentic leadership, where leaders are there to serve the companies and people and lead with integrity and purpose, using their EQ to connect with the people they are leading and working with. There are times when tough business decisions must be made, but they don’t require especially cold and ruthless leaders.
Do you agree with these?
Do you have any other beliefs that might hold you back? Put them into the comments, and we will see if they are true or fale, just like above!
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