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6 Leadership Myths and Realities

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There are many false impressions of what makes a great leader. Many people think that it's baked into your DNA whether or not you are destined to become an effective leader. Well guess what, they are wrong. I've shattered the top leadership myths and am giving you the reality.

Myth: Men make better leaders.

Reality: Gender does not determine leadership capabilities. In fact, women tend to be better at demonstrating concern for others, which is an important trait of being an effective leader. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is doing this right now. She is transforming the culture of the company through her own example of brutal honesty and accountability in the wake of the Cobalt recall.

Myth: The best leaders are extroverts.

Reality: Being an introvert or an extrovert determines how one recharges. Introverts recharge alone while extroverts recharge by being with others. There are no studies that suggest recharging one way or the other makes you a better leader. The main point is to find a way to recharge regularly to avoid burnout. Peter Drucker, regarded as the father of modern management, worked with many industry leaders and the one thing he found in common among high performing CEOs was that none of them were extroverts.

Myth: Great leaders are born with the instinct to lead. You either got it or you don't.

Reality: Some people want to lead, but that doesn't make them great leaders. Great leadership is a lifetime goal; you do not become a great leader overnight. Sully Sullenberger, captain of the plane that landed safely on the Hudson River, credits his ability to bring the plane down without injury to any passengers to his many years of flying gliders and jets. All the training, learning and preparation made him ready for an unexpected emergency.

Myth: You're not leading if you don't have followers.

Reality: In a knowledge-based economy many people work in teams and a large number of people work remotely blurring the traditional hierarchical distinction between leader and follower. Leadership begins by leading yourself and can include having followers. Einstein was a great and remarkable leader. He never ran an organization and did not have followers in the traditional sense, but his thought leadership fundamentally changed our understanding of physics.

Myth: Great leaders keep their emotions in check.

Reality: Great leaders connect to others on a human level and that requires using emotions such as empathy, compassion and happiness. Everyday, people in your organization are dealing with trying personal situations. We try to leave these matters at the door or somehow lock them up for the day until we get home, but that isn't very realistic. Effective leaders recognize that employees and colleagues are people and they may have pressing personal matters.

Myth: Leaders are the ones who get us into messes and get us out of them.

Reality: If we are really honest we will recognize that we are part of the messes that get created and we all contribute in some way through our action and inaction. If you want things to change, you have to get the ball moving in a new direction and can begin by changing your own behavioral choices and by setting a good example for others to follow.

Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. She is a Principal in Ledbetter Consulting Group and has worked extensively as a career management consultant and team performance coach for individuals and major organizations.