Five of the worst misconceptions we’ve ever heard about leaders


This article is authored by Kole Obasa of ThisKoleObasa.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” — Max DePree.

Whenever we hear of leaders, a picture of a knight in shining armour, probably on a white horse comes to mind.  Well at least for me. Reality though, is slightly different, for the company CEO’s, Army generals and indeed heads of states all share one thing in common – they carry leadership titles, but they are truly servants; servants of their wards.

It is very easy to view leaders different from what they really are, or mistake them for what they truly do. So, here are five of the worst misconceptions people make about leaders.

1. Leading is easier than following

In some companies, and indeed businesses, top management are often separated from workers in a traditional hierarchy model. This separation often gives non-management staff the impression that those at the top have it easy. The opposite is true, leaders at the top constantly fight battles and put out fires that most at the bottom are not even aware of; decisions regarding the future of the company are made on a daily basis which can give rise to untold headaches. While following can be tasking, leading is certainly stressful.

2. The air is cooler up there

You see the company cars, expense paid business trips and fancy suits and you assume life is certainly better for some. The reality is that their heads are the first on the chopping block should anything go wrong. The closer you are to the top, the more exposed you are to the firing line, simple fact.

3. Any fool can do it

Leaders are made of special stuff; that’s why most people aspire to be one. There will always be debates centred on the attributes of a true leader, these attributes are not common, neither are they possessed by everyone. It takes someone with a special cut to be a real leader.

4. They are protected

Physically? Perhaps, but in the business sense they are the most exposed. Consider the Managing Director of the recent scandal-hit Volkswagen. He was the one dragged in front of the congressional hearing, the press, the stakeholders, and the customers. He probably wasn’t directly responsible for the cars violating emission laws, but the buck stops with him, and rightly so.

5. Leadership is a position

Leadership cannot be assigned or mandated, it can only earned (as long as you are not a member of the royal family or born into royalty). You have to work towards attaining the heights of leaders because it simply wont be offered to you on a plate. So while leaders occupy positions, leadership itself is not one.

Perhaps, one of the worst misconceptions about leadership is that it is created for a select few. In fact, anyone can become a leader if they put their minds to it because leadership is a skill set which can be developed and improved, not a genetic personality.

Image by Ahmed Rabea.