'Born leader' conjures up images of people with forceful personalities. But today’s successful business leaders don’t always fit that mould
Myth 1: You’ve got to be tough
If you run a business or lead a team, inevitably it involves having to make tough decisions. But that’s about strategy not style. Today’s leaders are more likely to use “soft power” to get what they want. This is described by Joseph Nye, former dean of Harvard Business Review, as: “The ability to influence or lead through persuasion or attraction, by co-opting people rather than coercing them.” Championed by women in business (including Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In) the “soft power” approach is finding favour much more widely in the modern corporate world.
Myth 2: You must be good at everything
Not at all. The best leaders surround themselves with people who know as much or more than they do. They know their own strengths (and weaknesses) and make the most of what others can contribute. Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, authors of Strengths Based Leadership analysed the results of a 2008 Gallop leadership survey and concluded: “Leaders themselves do not need to be ‘well-rounded’, but their teams do.” In short, great leaders don’t micro-manage – they inspire others and then get out of the way.
Myth 3: You must be an extrovert
It’s a common misconception that you need an outgoing personality to be an effective leader. Of course we know there are exceptions, such as Bill Gates, a self-confessed introvert. But would it surprise you to know that Sir Richard Branson has had to overcome his own shyness? In fact, research by Harvard Business School has found that extroverts and introverts are equally successful in leadership roles, and that introverts, in some situations, can make better bosses.
Myth 4: You must keep your distance
There was a time when leaders remained hidden in their offices and employees were in awe of them. Today, hands-on managers who take time to get to know their staff have a better handle on how their business operates and they make better decisions as a result. Legendary management expert Peter Drucker says: “Good communications and interpersonal relations are imperative to overall business performance and sustainability.”
Myth 5: Nice guys finish last
Kindness and respect aren’t leadership weaknesses – they are strengths. The best leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence. That means that they are both self-aware and also empathetic when it comes to the needs of others. It also means that instead of thinking they know it all, these leaders are always learning. And they aren’t afraid to admit when they’re wrong.