When people get into a role where their job is to be in charge of other people, a lot of things can go wrong. Mostly, what gets in our way is the thoughts we have about “being in charge” that interfere with our ability to actually lead. We tend to hold some beliefs about a role with authority over others that keep us from being successful leaders. Here are some of the thoughts that hold us back from leading well.
Myth 1: Because I got the manager’s job, I am smarter or better, or have more answers.
It’s a trap. We feel like, because someone has now given us authority over someone else, we are somehow better at, well, everything. Clearly we were hired because of that superiority and now we are charged with bestowing our wisdom, guidance and opinions on others. This belief gets intertwined with the belief that if they hired me to lead others, they must think I actually do know what to tell everyone else to do, and so even if I am not sure of the answers, I have to pretend to have them. It’s a vicious circle and it’s important not to get wrapped up in it. Leadership means that you support people as they work toward their success, not that you drag them down some road that you have decided is best. If my job is to support more than instruct, then I don’t have to have all the answers, I need to invest time and have great questions.
Myth 2: If I am genuine, transparent, authentic, humble, trustworthy, honest, and empathetic, and a servant, then I will be a good leader.
People will tell us that leadership is about all of these kinds of things. We can spend a lot of time thinking about how to be all the positive character traits we can name. Pretty soon we can feel like we need to go live in a cave for a while so that we can become enlightened and then, just maybe, we are ready to lead another person. Of course these are good things to be, that’s why we admire them in others. But everyone should want to be these things, no matter what their job is. They aren’t specific to leadership, they are part of us just working to become better humans. Leadership is also about a set of processes we practice and continually get better at. Find me a decent human who can coach effectively, lead change in an organization, define and create an accountable culture, increase engagement on any team, and hire and develop great talent, and I will show you a great leader. Leadership is not just about who you are, it’s also about what you do.
Myth 3: My experience and the time I have put into a job or career will make me a better leader.
This might be true sometimes, but by itself, time doesn’t improve us. Do you know anyone who has been working for 20 years that wouldn’t make a good leader? Even worse, do you know anyone who has been in a management role forever and is not getting any better? If we think that the time that’s behind us makes us more able to lead others, then we tend to work much less hard at becoming the leader we could be. Those who think they have arrived, stop the journey. First of all, leadership changes. If you lead someone today like you did 10 years ago, you are less effective than you could be as a leader. Every day we learn more about human behavior change, employee engagement, organizational effectiveness, teams and collaboration, communication and even human happiness. If we are stuck in some historic view of what is a shifting, changing, evolving landscape of how to effectively lead others, we are missing significant opportunities to have more impact on others and their future. What you are learning now is every bit as important as what you thought about leadership 5, 10, or 20 years ago. I know lots of newer leaders who perform at a much higher level than some who have been in management roles for quite a while. Time does not make us better. Learning, adapting, building effective leadership habits, trying new things and failing more as we do - those things are the foundation for improvement. Time without effort just passes, it doesn’t build.