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Debunking the Top 3 Myths of Leadership

Leadership MythsDaily headline news, a subject for debate in the House of Commons and the key theme of Newsnight – the behaviour of the UK's most powerful leaders is a hot topic right now. Little wonder, when the right leader can make or break any team or organisation. Just ask News Corporation and the Metropolitan Police.

Luckily many businesses don't have the troubles of News International, but many do have issues selecting the right leader. Expecting chance or self-promotion to deliver good leaders is to elevate hope over experience, and too many organisations base the selection of their leaders on a number of common myths:

Myth 1: The most productive team member makes the best leader. This is often where it all starts to go wrong. They can do the job well, and so have the capacity to take a leading role in the team, but they are largely task oriented. As soon as the task becomes too big for them, their ability to know everything diminishes and they disappear into detail, neglecting their team and the individuals it contains.

Myth 2: The pushy, confident self-promoter will make things happen (Even if they upset a few people in the process.) These people are usually tolerated as leaders whilst the going is good, but as soon as things go wrong their alienated team drops them. There is a saying that you should be careful whom you tread on the way up lest you meet them again on the way down. Margaret Thatcher is a good example here. She was a strong leader who won elections and certainly made things happen, but was brutally dumped by her bruised and bullied cabinet as soon as she became unpopular with the electorate.

Myth 3: The most experienced team member should be leader. Often managers are promoted because they know the domain. There may be something to be said for this when appointing administrators, but not for leaders. Experience is helpful when you are repeating something already done before, but can hold people back when trying to do something new. Gordon Brown and John Major are good examples of where substantial cabinet experience did not prepare them well for their subsequent roles as prime minister.

So what traits should we be looking for?

First we should define leadership. There are plenty of definitions to choose from, but if diplomacy is the art of letting somebody else have your own way, then perhaps leadership is the art of letting other people do whatever you want.

The important point here is that a key attribute of a leader is to get people to want to do what the leader needs them to do, rather than feeling compelled to do so through fear and humiliation. There are many traits of good leaders, but here are the ones that make people want to do what is asked of them.

Trait 1: Vision and charisma. Most people want to be part of a successful enterprise, with an inspiring goal and a belief that it can be achieved. This is where vision and charisma come in. A clear vision inspires people, and makes them feel part of a cause greater than themselves. Charisma is essential too as the clearest most compelling vision fails to inspire anybody when articulated by a boring, uninspiring leader. Just watch Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream ...' speech for a neck-tingling example of vision and charisma.

Trait 2: Personal integrity and respect for others. People follow principles before knowledge or confidence. You must be able to trust your leaders if you are to commit your efforts to what they ask you to do. If you can't trust them then you start to assume that they are just in it for themselves, and it becomes a very transactional relationship – you'll do what they want, so long as you know what's in it for you. Mo Mowlam helped to restore an IRA ceasefire and include Sinn Fein in multi-party talks about the future of Northern Ireland, largely because of her integrity, and the respect she showed the disenfranchised Republicans.

Trait 3: A fierce desire to empower their team. Nobody likes to be micromanaged, and most switch-off when they are. Good leaders have the ability to make people feel empowered to do what is wanted of them in their own way - clear about the expected result, but free to be creative and innovative in its production. Leaders who empower their teams unleash extraordinary levels of productivity and inspire fierce loyalty. Their teams are happy and attrition is low. Leaders with this trait are easy to spot – they are the ones with a spring in their step, with time to think and free of the inconsequential detail that cripples the micromanager.

So, if you want effective leaders then pick and train those with vision, charisma and integrity who respect and empower their teams; if not, promote the individually productive, pushy team members who have been around the longest. The choice and the consequences are yours.

Article by Moorhouse Consulting, visit them at 



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