9 Leadership Myths (Debunked)

If you were asked to conjure up a mental image of a leader, how would you describe that person?

Are you picturing an authoritative politician? A smart and capable CEO? An intimidating military commander?

It is easy to understand why these types of ideas spring to mind. It is commonly believed that leaders are dominant, intelligent, outgoing, and sometimes a little intimidating.

As humans, we tend to place leaders on pedestals. We see them as being infallible, and we often forget that their success most likely came from years of trial and error, coaching and mentoring, constant learning, and being able to change and improve.

Due to this misconception, some people are promoted to positions of leadership when they are actually not suitable for the role. There is plenty of advice out there on how to be a good leader, but unfortunately, some of that advice spreads unrealistic notions of how a leader should act. 

Whether you realize it or not, there are certain leadership myths that have become ingrained in our culture and subtly influence our behavior in the workplace and beyond. 

Do not let these leadership myths stop you from reaching your full potential. 

Myth #1: Leaders do not make mistakes.

A lot of leaders believe they must be wiser and more knowledgeable than their employees—that is not true. The most effective leaders are aware of their own limitations. They know that success is a team sport and that to be successful, they need a group of motivated people with different skills working toward a common goal.

It is easy to think that leaders can do no wrong; yet everyone makes mistakes, and those mistakes help us learn and grow. Effective leaders take accountability for their mistakes and will trust the experts—the people that they have hired. 

Myth #2: Leaders are the only ones who can lead.

People often think that there is only one leader for every team, department, or company. In reality, almost everyone takes on some form of leadership role from time to time based on present circumstances. 

As a leader, you should encourage everyone to take charge when needed. No matter what position someone is in, it is important to foster leadership skills so they can take charge within their current role. 

By providing self-motivated individuals with a clear objective, you can build high-performing teams within your organization. This is crucial to make sure that your business can continue to run smoothly during circumstances when you are unable to oversee day-to-day operations.

Related read: Great Leaders Occupy These 15 Leadership Roles

Myth #3: Good leaders should be outgoing.

While confidence is an essential quality in a leader, having an outgoing personality is not. Introversion can manifest in a variety of ways and does not necessarily affect a person’s ability to lead a team or organization. As long as they are good at planning, organizing, and communicating, they have the most important skills of a good leader. 

In fact, two of the key traits of introversion, listening and internal reflection, are critical components of sound decision-making. After all, you need to be a good listener to get feedback and make observations, and you need to be able to think critically to solve problems and find opportunities. 

Myth #4: Leadership is equivalent to management.

Another common myth about leadership is that it is the same thing as management. Having the ability to provide instructions and guidance does not always mean that someone is a good leader. Significant differences between these two roles, include:

  • Managers set goals; leaders establish a vision.
  • Managers maintain the status quo, while leaders bring about change.
  • Managers work on goals for the short term, leaders focus on the bigger picture. 
  • Managers delegate tasks and provide advice on how to do them; leaders coach and empower.
  • Employees work for managers, employees follow leaders.
  • Managers enforce rules to command control so that it can achieve its goals. Leaders inspire, influence, and encourage the people around them.

Both roles are important. The key is to find a good balance between management and leadership.

Myth #5: One leadership style works for all.

The leadership style that you carry out today was learned, either from previous jobs or from training programs. These tactics can easily become ingrained, and you will use them as your go-to approach. The issue is that leadership is rarely a one-size-fits-all approach.

Just like any other skill that needs to be regularly updated for its user to remain relevant, you too need to update and adapt your leadership and management styles. 

People have unique personalities, different learning preferences, and work habits. How can you then expect everyone to respond the same way to a certain style of leadership? Effective leaders make an effort to listen, learn, and adapt their leadership styles to the needs of their team members. So that they can effectively lead, develop, and empower each individual in their team.  

Related read: 7 Most Common Leadership Styles & When You Should Implement Them

Myth #6: Leaders work smart, not hard.

There are definitely smarter ways to prioritize your tasks, plan your day wisely to increase your productivity, and know when and what tasks to delegate as a leader. However, every successful person has always worked hard to achieve their dreams.

Great leaders value their time, avoid mistakes that they or others have made in the past, and know how to empower their team to do more. That is referred to as “working smart.” But nothing great has ever been accomplished without a lot of hard work. 

True leaders lead by example; they are the first to arrive and the last to leave; they are fully invested in their organization’s vision; and by demonstrating their dedication, they inspire those around them to demonstrate the same level of commitment and behavior.

Myth #7: Leaders should never show vulnerability.

Leaders should not be vulnerable: this belief is harmful on multiple levels. It attempts to create the illusion that leaders never make mistakes and lack the same human qualities as the rest of us. 

In reality, leaders who are open and honest about their flaws and mistakes are often more relatable, inspiring, and respected than those who put on a mask of unattainable perfection. Leaders who are emotionally intelligent know that being vulnerable is a powerful tool. They are aware of their weaknesses and sharing them with the right people at the right time will not only empower and inspire their followers, but garner more support from them.

Myth #8: Entrepreneurs are natural-born leaders.

Some people believe that entrepreneurs are natural-born leaders. Unfortunately, just because you have a fantastic business idea does not mean that you are capable of organizing, operating, and scaling a business—even if that business grows to have a net worth of millions of dollars.

Even if you are the founder of the company, it does not mean that you are the best person to lead it. Leadership is about having a vision, getting other people to believe in it, developing talent, listening, and getting other people to change.

All of these qualities can be brought in by an outside CEO hire. If you do not believe you have strong leadership qualities, it is best to leave your ego at the door and hand the reins over to someone who does. However, it is also important to note that anyone can excel at anything if they truly put their mind to it.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

Myth #9: Leaders should always be on top of their game.

Finally, there is a common misconception that leaders must be “on” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The truth is that everyone, regardless of position, requires a break from work,or they risk burnout. 

Even though great leaders work hard, they know that they need space to plan, think, and come up with new ideas. Leaders need to find that place of wisdom, strength, and real connection (with themselves and others) and lead from there.

Related read: 7 Proactive Steps To Prevent ‘Quiet Quitting’

Leadership is a skill, not a genetic disposition. 

Leadership can be learned, just like any other behavior, so long as you are ready to devote time and effort to its development. You can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.

If you are looking to develop or strengthen your leadership skills, one of the best ways to do so is through coaching. 

Coaching can lead to greater self-awareness, higher self-confidence, and improved leadership skills—all of which contribute to the increase in employee engagement and improved work performance.

Individuals can utilize professional coaching to explore multiple approaches to the issues they are facing in a productive and confidential environment. It lets people come up with ideas that are realistic and holds them accountable for making the changes they need to make to achieve their goals.

Here at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®, we help leaders improve their leadership effectiveness with the world-renowned SCC methodology. 

Designed by the world’s #1 leadership thinker, Marshall Goldsmith, this quantifiable coaching process can help you attain sustainable behavioral change and improved leadership effectiveness. 

Get the details on our program by downloading our brochure here, or get in touch with our program advisor—they will be happy to answer any questions you might have about the program.


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