Top 10 Leadership Myths Debunked

Today I have a guest blogger. His name is Scott Macke. Learn more about him at the end of this post. He like my father in law is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. Our military academies produce great leaders….Lee

Top 10 Leadership Myths Debunked

Leadership takes courage.  It’s not easy to stand up for something you believe in.  It can be frightening to speak up in a crowd.  It’s much easier to just do what you’re told, follow instructions, and fit in.

Why lead?

In today’s article, I will help you overcome your fear of leading by shining a light on what leaders do (and don’t do).  I’ll discuss some common leadership myths to help give you a better understanding of what it truly means to lead.

Top 10 Leadership Myths:

Myth #1:  Leaders follow instructions.  Leaders chart their own course and make their own instructions.  They don’t wait to be told what to do.

Myth #2:  Leaders want attention.  Leaders draw attention to an idea, not themselves. Leaders create an idea and connect people to it.

 Myth #3:  Leaders invoke fear.  If you threaten people, you’re not a leader.  You’re a bully.  People give leaders their attention when they believe in them and their ideas.

Myth #4:  Only the boss can lead.  You don’t need a title to lead.  You need a good idea and a way to connect people to it.

 Myth #5:  You need training to lead.  You need to believe in something.  You need conviction.  You don’t need leadership training.

Myth #6:  Leaders always stay the course.  Leaders don’t do things “because that’s how we’ve always done them.”  Leaders make change.  If the course isn’t right, they correct it.  They improve on the status quo, they don’t protect it.

 Myth #7:  Managers are leaders.  Managers enforce rules, discipline employees, and follow instructions.  Leaders get out front and create the future.  Managers can be leaders but that’s a choice, not a prerequisite for the job.  The organization awards the title of “manager.”  The people award the title of “leader.”

Myth #8:  Leaders want followers.  Leaders want to attract other leaders, not followers.  It’s easier to spread a message (and get things done) if you have more leaders on your team than followers.

Myth #9:  Leadership is glamorous.  Leaders get down and dirty.  They call customers.  They talk to employees.  They find out if the new process is working.  They get involved.

 Myth #10:  You aren’t qualified to lead.  You were born to lead.  You have something to say.  You have an idea.  We need to hear it.  We need you to lead.

Leadership is about connecting.  It’s connecting people to an idea and to each other.  Without a vision there is no leader.

In 1928, a passionate cartoonist named Walt Disney created what would become the most popular fictional character of all time – Mickey Mouse.  Mickey Mouse was more than a cartoon character.  He was an idea.  And people connected with him.

Disney transformed character animation from crudely drawn characters into art.  His ability to connect people to his characters (and ideas) made him a leader.

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” —Walt Disney

How does a customer service rep (with 0 direct reports) become a leader?

Margie is a customer service rep.  She thinks outside the box and goes the extra mile to provide excellent service to her customers.  The word “no” is not in her vocabulary.

Margie’s unique ideas about customer service get her extraordinary results.  She’s excited about her ideas and wants to share them.  She emails the other reps at her company and creates a weekly series to spread her ideas.

The other reps like her ideas, implement them, and get better results.  They write to Margie with their own unique thoughts and ideas.  They share Margie’s ideas with their friends and co-workers.  Margie has engaged her team.

Margie is now a leader.

How does a manager become a leader?

Frank is a manager with fifteen direct reports.  He is honest, hard-working, and easy to get along with.  He supports the company mission and follows instructions.

On the surface, Frank seems happy.  But deep down inside he wants to do more.  He wants to have an impact.  He wants to make a difference.

In his free time, Frank reads personal development books to better himself.  He applies the concepts he studies to his job. Suddenly, Frank has a breakthrough.  He finds a way to improve the efficiency of his operation and saves the company thousands of dollars.

Frank is passionate about his discovery and conducts a workshop to teach the other managers what he learned.  They listen, apply his ideas, and experience their own breakthroughs.  The team becomes stronger.

Frank takes it a step further.  He creates a blog to share his ideas with anyone who will read them.  People connect with him online, read his articles, and apply his ideas to their own lives.  They share his articles with their friends and co-workers.  Everyone becomes stronger.

Frank is now a leader.

How do you become a leader?

You have an idea.  You think about it every day.  You don’t know it yet, but your idea will change the world.

To become a leader you need to release your idea.  Get it out there so people can learn about it.

What if Walt Disney didn’t share his idea with the world?  What if he listened to the people that told him cartoons were silly?  That he should become an accountant or doctor instead?  There would be no Walt Disney World, and no beautiful memories from the Magic Kingdom.  Your daughter wouldn’t be Cinderella for Halloween.  The world would be less magical.

Go!  Share your idea.  Lead! Create Magic.

About the Author

Scott Mackes is a leader and founder of the blog Margin of Excellence.  A U.S. Navy veteran and graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Scott’s mission is to help others lead remarkable journeys.  You can learn more about Scott on his blog where he shares his unique ideas such as The One Year Self-Directed MBA.


  1. Lee and Scott
    What a great way to start a Friday after a personally long (yet ironically short) and difficult week! Very thought provoking. I remember once seeing, an interview with this vy young, – effectively a kid – who was going to direct an LA Gear TV Spot. When asked what he liked most about directing his response was “I get to tell people what to do” – so that was the reward????? how very bossy

    Aaron Sorkin’s TV show “The West Wing” once told a truism; You know they call a leader with no followers? Just a guy out taking a walk. Scott has produced ten simple measuring sticks for delineating between bosses, and leaders.

    I am reminded of the 2000 movie U-571 in which Bill Paxton, told Matthew McConihey that to be a great leader he must be willing to sacrifice the men in his command, this point was augmented by a conversation with Havey Keitel (whose name is easier to spell than Matthew’s which I mis-spelled) where he talks about a naval captain being a “powerful and terrible thing”. In the end Matthew sacrifices one of his men to save all of them.

    I wonder would it have been a better story had he had those two previous conversations and yet still managed to find a better way. Such would be the make of a leader.


  2. Great article. Thanks for sharing Scott. Being a leader is a choice. We can all choose to lead no matter where we are or what we do. Thanks for reminding us.

  3. This is a great article, and I agree with almost everything you have said. I would challenge your assertion (and perhaps this is my bias, as a people development professional) that leaders don’t need training. I agree that leaders do not necessarily need training in the traditional sense of skill or knowledge training. However, considering the staggering number of production workers (engineers, craftsmen, technicians etc.) who fail miserably in leadership positions after being promoted based on their superior technical skill, I would argue that there are some leadership competencies that do not come naturally to everyone. Yes, vision is essential. Yes, anyone can be a leader. But that process can happen faster, and with a lot less pain and suffering, with a bit of guidance, development and coaching in the art and science of leadership.

    I see it this way: an athlete with natural talent and a bit of discipline certainly can become a gold medalist without any coaching. The odds, however, are probably against him. A coach can help an athlete focus her training efforts, hone her skills, and navigate the aspects of competition she may not be aware of. The coach doesn’t necessarily teach the athlete how to run, jump, or swim, but the coach plays a very important role in the athlete’s success. Leadership development is the same way. You can do it without a coach, but you can do it faster and better with one.

    Would you agree?

  4. Kent – thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    Tracy – I whole-heartedly agree with your thoughts. My point was to get others to take action and not let a perceived lack of experience or qualifications get in the way of leading. I’ve had many coaches and mentors in my life and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. However, I first had to put myself out there and miss a few shots before I could truly benefit from having a coach. Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Great article. One of my mentors say “leaders are neither born nor made, but they are ones who are willing to make the decision to lead in situations when it is most expected of them”. It is interesting to see how leadership thinkers across the world propagate this idea – example, Robin Sharma (Lead Without a Title), Sangeeth Varghese (Decide to Lead), etc. Its like Nike telling “Everyone is an athlete – If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” In the same way, everyone has the potential to be a leader by birth, the person need to decide to become a leader and interventions like training, coaching, mentoring can make the person a better leader.

    Would you agree?

  6. Good Day, Scott & Lee,


    Myth #1: Leaders follow instructions. Leaders chart their own course and make their own instructions. They don’t wait to be told what to do.

    In my view leaders follow instructions is a 2-edged sword. Great leaders are great follows. They are capable of following instructions of their leaders precisely. All leaders report to other leaders.

    Myth #5: You need training to lead. You need to believe in something. You need conviction. You don’t need leadership training.

    I agree with all here – caveat, leadership training is certainly helpful. Please see the difference between an entering cadet and a graduating officer. Each year the cadet is developed in different ways leading to an officer with incredible leadership skills. See Col. Larry R. Donnithorne (Ret.), The West Point Way of Leadership: From Learning Principles of Leadership to Practicing It, NY: Currency-Doubleday, 1993.

    Myth #6: Leaders always stay the course. Leaders don’t do things “because that’s how we’ve always done them.” Leaders make change. If the course isn’t right, they correct it. They improve on the status quo, they don’t protect it.

    We need to be careful here. Leaders must be able to react appropriately to changing situations – no issue here for me. However, I hear W. Edwards Deming calling to us to Stay the Course on quality and other strategic initiatives. All too often the consultant-of-the-month program drives us into the airplane affect.

    Your stories carry the key points here very well. I learn from all your points and stories.

    My thanks for helping me become a better leader.

    Regards — Jim

  7. Nibras,

    re: “In the same way, everyone has the potential to be a leader by birth, the person need to decide to become a leader and interventions like training, coaching, mentoring can make the person a better leader. Would you agree?”

    Yes — Leadership starts with a personal commitment. Even in situations where I may be selected to lead a committee that I really do not have time for — if I accept the nomination, leadership starts at that moment.

    I am ready to take us from point A to point B and will share openly how this new reality will look and why it is important. In some sense I must deal with the ultimate question at this moment in time: “What’s in it for us?” Quoting Scott above; “People give leaders their attention when they believe in them and their ideas.”


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