Editor's Insights: 5 Leadership Myths and Realities

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You don't have to be a robot to be a great leader-- always on the go and never sleeping or enjoying downtime. Perhaps the biggest myth about leadership is that great ones have no work-life balance. But it is possible to maintain a healthy and happy life outside of your work and still be a great leader. Here are some other myths about leaderships debunked by some top leaders themselves.
Myth 1) Leaders work a 16 hour day, every day.

"Quite honestly, if you're doing this you're probably doing something wrong," says Brian Wong, Founder and CEO at Kiip. "Yes, some days you may need to - you can push yourself - but the perception that this is consistently so is just wrong. It just doesn't happen."
Wong continues that everyone has a "peak" number of hours that they can really be productive. How to find out yours? It's around the time you start surfing the web and updating Facebook. When you've checked out, this should be your clue that it's time to go home, or at least take a break.

Myth 2) Leaders are born, not made.

"Most people will experience a role as a leader in some form or fashion at one point in their lifetime," says Mike Camp, Director of Leadership Academy at Walmart. "The common response from experienced leaders is that they were not prepared for significance when they first began to lead; and thank goodness for second chances!
"As we began to develop our leadership style, there were people in our lives who helped shape the leader we see in the mirror today. Without leadership influence, be it negative or positive, we may not have become a successful leader. We owe these influencers our gratitude for leaving us with impressions from which we learned."

Myth 3) They lead with their heads, not with their hearts.

A recent article in Forbes discussed the neurological basis for empathy. Marco Iocaboni, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, says that mapping how humans interact cold be integral into creating outstanding leaders.
"Mirror neurons seem to be a bridge between our thinking, feeling, and actions—and between people," says Iocaboni.

"In businesses where leaders have been trained in ‘emotional intelligence’—in other words, the skills to work effectively with people—it makes sense that there are less accidents, and stress is less of a problem. What may be a surprise is that they also make more money."

In that same article, Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, says:

"Conscious companies treat their stakeholders better. As a consequence, their suppliers are happier to do business with them. Employees are more engaged, productive, and likely to stay. These companies are more welcome in their communities and their customers are more satisfied and loyal. The most conscious companies give more, and they get more in return."

So if you believe that leaders think with their heads more than their hearts, think again!

Myth 4) Leaders don't make mistakes.

Many believe that as a leader in the spotlight, you must be a shining example and therefore can never make a mistake. But many experts would agree that trying, failing, and then trying again is a key part of your growth as a leader.

Bill Cohen was Peter Drucker’s first executive Ph.D. graduate at what is now the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management. He points out that Peter Drucker, a brilliant management expert who is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Modern Management", made his fair share of very public mistakes.

"Drucker failed in his first major public prediction," says Cohen. "Two weeks before 'Black Tuesday' when the stock market plunged and the Great Depression began on October 29th, 1929, he wrote a newspaper column in which he predicted continual expansion of the market for the next decade."

Many others had failures as they developed themselves as leaders, according to Cohen. "The entrepreneur who founded Macy's failed many times before establishing the retail store which today has almost 200 thousand employees and 800 US stores. "As a junior engineer at GE, Jack Welch, later named 'Manager of the Century' by Fortune Magazine, was almost fired. He had failed by mismanaging a project which blew the roof off a building. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the second Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and one of its most outstanding World War II leaders was almost dismissed from West Point for lack of leadership aptitude after his first year as a cadet. Warren Buffett is a wildly successful investor and industrialist who is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest men in the world. His first independent investment was a Sinclair Texaco gas station. It went bankrupt."

Clearly, their early failings did not stop these entrepreneurs from becoming wildly successful leaders, who are remembered for their triumphs, not their mistakes.

Myth 5) Leaders must be staunch "realists".

"There are two kinds of attitudes in the world—those who think and act through the lens of abundance, and those who think and act through a lens of scarcity," according to Roxi Hewertson, author and writer on leadership development. "Attitudes shift throughout our lives for many reasons, and great leaders know the message they are sending about whatever attitude is current."

Obviously, we should not have our head in the clouds, ignoring all bad things, but we should not dwell on the negative either. "Great leaders go for solutions, new ideas, and silver linings, even in the worst of times. They may change course, but they never give up. They thoughtfully navigate their staffers to a better place—often to places their subordinates didn’t even know or believe possible. The best leaders will tell the truth even if the "sky is falling" and then shine a light on the path to get everyone to a better place.

"These are the leaders whose employees say 'I would follow my boss anywhere.'" And isn't that the kind of boss you want to be?