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The six common leadership myths

Leadership comes in many forms ‘and so does myths associated with it.


As Karen Kimsey-House, co-author of Co-Active Leadership ‘and Co-Active Coaching, observes, existing businesses are facing disruption at all levels. She notes that younger employees are not satisfied with just a “job,” but rather, want work that allows them to be involved ‘and included in decisions. Traditional comm ‘and ‘and control leadership models are floundering, unable to adapt to the need for more collaboration ‘and inclusion. “Flattening organisational structure is all the rage these days, but until we move beyond some of our long-cherished myths about what it means to be a leader, it will be difficult to truly generate change,” she says.

So, what are some of these myths? We look at six of them.

Myth One – Leadership is just at the top

Professor Michael D. B. Munkumba, the Director, Eastern ‘and Southern African Management Institute (ESAMI) Business School ‘and also author of the book, Essential Management ‘and Leadership Toolkit, says that it is best if those at the top of the organisation are leaders. Yet many among those who hold top positions are anything but leaders. “Leadership is found at every level in the organisation. Some of the best leaders are found lower in the organisational ladder. Leaders are known by the influence they wield over those around them.”

Myth Two – ‘Results are everything’ leadership

Prof. Munkumba observes that leaders who believe in ‘results are everything’ philosophy exhibit the following traits; passion, vision, ‘and discipline. “Obviously, this leadership may come up with results that are totally undesirable. Hitler belongs in this category. But those who add conscience to vision, passion ‘and discipline are the legacy leaders.” He mentions M ‘andela, G ‘andhi, Luther ‘and among others as leaders who did it noting that this is a legacy leadership which lives beyond the life of the leader. “Destination is not everything; the journey is important too,” he adds.

Myth Three – Leading ‘and managing are the same

These two terms while they may seem similar are, nonetheless, different. Prof. Munkumba says that that a leader sets direction, a manager works to maintain that direction.

“A manager maintains while a leader innovates, a manager focuses on systems while a leader focuses on people, a manager asks how ‘and when while a leader asks what ‘and why. A manager focuses on detail while a manager focuses on vision ‘and strategies.”

Myth Four – A position automatically makes one a leader

According to Prof. Munkumba, there are leaders who “hold positions of leadership”, but there are “people holding leadership positions.” He says that the latter are not necessarily leaders. A position puts one’s foot in the door, having an inherent authority. “Whoever occupies the position assumes that authority. That authority also remains behind when one leaves the position, but a leader walks away from their leadership. That trait is not put on ‘and off like a coat.”

Myth Five – All leaders are born

Prof. Munkumba, also a finance ‘and management lecturer, says that in a way, leaders are born just as all human beings are born.

“All human beings are born with a potential to transform or add value to something, to serve, to lead in an area of their talents, their gifting. Perhaps the questions should be, can leaders be made? You bet,” he says.

He adds that the preponderance of people known to be or to have been leaders is made through training. “So, while all are born with the potential to be leaders in their areas, leaders are made through a process of either training/education or by circumstances.”

Myth Six – A leader’s job is to give answers to questions from followers.

“A leader’s job is to help people find their own answers – to teach them how to fish,” explains Prof. Munkumba, who is also lecturer in management ‘and finance.

He says a leader should “grow followers so that ultimately, they no longer need him but can fend for themselves. The eventual departure of a true leader should not leave a vacuum behind. That is the litmus test.”

This view is shared by Asma Zaineb, a leadership expert who says that it is a myth to assume that leaders know everything; they do not. “What leaders do have is a vision ‘and a sense of direction. They too learn from others,” she says in conclusion.

Sammi Nderitu is a writer, photographer ‘and digital media expert at KIM.


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