Much of the potential for leadership inside us goes untapped, because our own thinking is constrained. Here are five of the most pernicious myths about leader development:
• Leaders are born, not made.
• Leaders tend to fit a certain profile—for example, most are extroverts, or charismatic.
• Leaders are defined by their role or title.
• Developing leaders requires a focus on the right set of skills and knowledge.
• People learn how to lead by having the right things to work on.
My work with leaders over the last decade suggests a more expansive, and more nuanced, story. To begin with, leadership is natural only up to a point. For the most part, it’s a choice: we choose to lead and then we work at being a leader.
Leaders come in many styles and forms. The way they lead is a reflection of who they know themselves to be. What’s more, leaders can be found in any venue, and at any level of an organization. What defines a leader is the ability to stimulate new thinking and to take action that produces unexpected outcomes.
Leadership is inherently contextual—what is needed from a leader varies according to the particular situation and historical moment. Consequently, there’s no one right skill set or body of knowledge that all leaders must master, except for this: leaders must focus on developing their skills of character—that is, on becoming more of who they already are in order to do what leading requires.
As I elaborate on these fundamental premises in future posts. I think what you’ll discover that this expanded notion of how leadership will open up vast new terrain in your understanding of who you are and of what is possible for you.
The Action Plan
• Leader development is a journey of self-discovery that brings light to hidden aspects of who you are. Don’t undertake the journey because you “feel called to lead”—do it because you want to develop yourself to the fullest.
• Taking on a mentor can help you accelerate the process of defining who you are as a leader. A good mentor serves as a mirror, helping you not only to see who you really are, but also to develop trust in that authentic self.