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Leadership Myths

Leadership has been one of the least understood concepts across all cultures and civilizations – and leadership myths are common.

Myth 1Leadership is innate

Although some aspects of leadership might be easier for those born with certain personality characteristics (like extraversion; intelligence; ingenuity), leadership also develops through observation, imitation, training, practice, hard work, and experience. Effective leadership can result from nature (innate talents) as well as nurture (acquired skills).

Myth 2Leadership is possessing power over others

Although leadership is certainly a form of power, it is less power over people than a reciprocal relationship between a leader and followers. Manipulation, coercion, and domination to influence others is not a requirement for leadership. Those who seek group consent and strive to act in the best interests of others can also become effective leaders (class president; court judge).

Myth 3Leaders are positively influential

Although the bystander effect (failure to respond or offer assistance) that tends to develop within groups faced with an emergency is significantly reduced in groups guided by a leader and group performance, creativity, and efficiency all tend to increase when guided by effective leaders, the difference leaders make is not always positive in nature. Leaders sometimes focus on fulfilling their own agendas at the expense of others, including his/her own followers (Pol Pot; Josef Stalin). Leaders who focus on personal gain by employing stringent and manipulative leadership styles often make a difference, but usually do so through negative means.

Myth 4Leaders entirely control group outcomes

It is often assumed that group leaders make all the difference when it comes to group influence and overall goal-attainment. Although common, this romanticized view of leadership (and the tendency to overestimate the degree of control leaders have over their groups and their groups’ outcomes) ignores the existence of many other factors that influence group dynamics. For example, group cohesion, communication patterns among members, individual personality traits, group context, the nature or orientation of the work, as well as behavioral norms and established standards influence group functionality in varying capacities. For this reason, it is unwarranted to assume that all leaders are in complete control of their groups’ achievements.

Myth 5All groups have a designated leader

Not all groups need have a designated leader. Groups that are primarily composed of women, are limited in size, are free from stressful decision-making, or only exist for a short period of time (like student work groups or pub quiz/trivia teams) often undergo a diffusion of responsibility, where leadership tasks and roles are shared amongst members.

Myth 6Group members resist leaders

Although group members’ dependence on group leaders can lead to reduced self-reliance and overall group strength, most people actually prefer to be led than to be without a leader. This “need for a leader” becomes especially strong in troubled groups that are experiencing some sort of conflict. Group members tend to be more contented and productive when they have a leader to guide them. Although individuals filling leadership roles can be a direct source of resentment for followers, most people appreciate the contributions that leaders make to their groups and consequently welcome the guidance of a leader.

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