The three most common misconceptions about leadership

The most common misconceptions about leadership influence your way of thinking about yourself, your life and your everyday challenges. Do you recognise yourself in the following?

  • “Leadership means dominating others” Your influence as a leader depends on many factors which vary from one situation and one person to another. Just a few of the many factors you need to take into account include the reliability of each team member, relationships in the group, the urgency of the situation and a person’s capacity successfully to complete tasks. Practising leadership means actively participating with others so that problems and decisions can be effectively resolved and acted on.

Of course, in a position of influence some people will attempt to dominate others. But leadership at high level focuses on influencing in the interest of the common goal rather than on a need for domination. If you believe that as a leader you must enforce dominance and power over others you’ll get unhappy results, manipulation and mistrust: the exact opposite of what will work for you and those around you to achieve results!

Do you regard yourself as a leader? No? When was the last time you had the opportunity to influence your colleagues, boss or spouse? Creating a work strategy for a client, developing an innovative solution, persevering despite a difficulty or even challenging an unexamined assumption, all need you to motivate yourself and those around you. Leadership extends to everybody; it’s not exclusive to people with the senior job titles.

  • “Leadership is a fundamental quality that you can’t develop” Do you divide the world into two categories of people: ‘leaders’ and ‘the rest’? The life story of most leaders provides an interesting insight. Though some people are inherently endowed with qualities related to leadership such as effective communication, self-confidence or a vigorous personality, leadership itself is not an innate quality. Just because some people have these qualities they may still not choose to provide leadership in everyday situations.

And the opposite is also true; if somebody lacks leadership-related qualities they can still develop an ability to mobilise and influence. Think of important historical figures such as Gandhi, who was extremely timid, or Winston Churchill, who initially had poor communication ability. Their leadership aptitude developed because of what they wanted to accomplish. Despite initial difficulties, they took initiative and risks to achieve their goal, inspiring thousands of followers in the process. They developed their leadership ability by reflecting on the present situation, possible scenarios for future situations, and on good and bad life experiences.

Anyone who has the will can develop their leadership ability. So why wouldn’t you go for it? This brings us to the third misconception:

  • “Leadership is difficult and exhausting” Developing your leadership ability means exerting a bigger impact in everyday situations and implies taking a bigger part in your own life. Sounds exhausting? On the contrary: notice that those who practise leadership effortlessly radiate energy. How come?

Compare leadership to physical activity. A sedentary individual (like me!) observing a professional tennis player like Rafael Nadal might believe him to be exhausting himself. But physical action actually provides him with a feeling of wellbeing and strength – in fact he’d miss hard activity if he didn’t practise it for any length of time. Practising leadership is the same.

If you are unwilling to step up to leadership, on the other hand, you wait on others to make decisions, putting yourself at their mercy without even attempting to voice your ideas and opinions. Sometimes people do this only in some situations, others may take this stance for an entire lifetime. Either way, far from being the easy option, letting yourself be influenced by others is hugely stressful and your mood can become permanently negative and passive.

Taking a risk in influencing and communicating with others to resolve a common problem and to find solutions stimulates your mind and lets others value your contributions. It also puts you in contact with others around you and leads to self-discovery. In other words, developing your leadership ability gives you a greater say in your everyday life and provides you with a feeling of wellbeing and achievement that you will find quickly surpasses any initial stress.

The source of personal energy and influence

These common misconceptions about leadership affect your everyday life, mood and energy levels. Developing your leadership ability by applying it in any situation and by taking part in group discussions about common challenges and goals can lead you to discover an unsurpassed personal source of energy and influence.

Indeed, why wouldn’t you go for it?

Adapted from The Three Most Common Misconceptions on Leadership by Edith Luc.