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Five Leadership Development Myths That Can Hold Your Company Back

Leadership_Development_2-1There is common agreement that leadership is vital to bringing vision, creativity and results to organizations. It is also said that there is a “shortage of leaders” and that organizations are doing an ineffective job in developing their talent pipeline.

Here are five leadership development myths that are holding company's talent development programs back. Dispelling these myths will get companies back to effective growing great leaders.


The dictionary definition of myth is a “widely held but false idea”. There are many myths in circulation about leadership.

Here is a list of the top 5 myths holding back effective leadership development.  

Myth 1 – Leaders Are Born – Not Developed. 

Greg Smith, President and Lead Navigator of Chart Your Course International, summed it up this way in his blog Five Leadership Myths

“Many people still think leaders are born not made. This can't be further from the truth. Most people have the potential to become good leaders. Leadership is not like a diet pill. Like most learned skills, it takes time, training, and lots of trial by error. The key ingredient making people good leaders is the ability to care about others. The second ingredient is a sense of purpose, vision or mission. A good leader charts a course and provides direction to those they lead”

Myth 2 - Leaders are charismatic. 

Greg Smith goes no further to say that the myth that charisma is essential to leadership is not accurate. Leaders have the ability to articulate a vision, find means to get everyone on their team to embrace the vision and work with their team on getting the tasks done to make the vison a reality.

This does not necessarily require a charismatic, extroverted personality. While charisma can definitely help a leader there are many examples of quiet/reserved leaders that were highly effective. Some examples are Bill Gates, Dwight Eisenhower and John Wooden.

Myth 3 – Leadership development should only be done at the top.

Jim Finkelstein and Elizabeth Mead of FutureSense explain this myth in this way

“When creating a leadership development model, the executive team, or c-suite, is typically the first to engage in the process. When it comes to leadership models, the conversations, strategic planning, etc. frequently stay at the highest levels of leadership. Yet engaging the leaders in the middle level of an organization in the planning and building of a model adds tremendous insight and value. After all,mid-level leaders are the direct link to organizational success”.

The trap that many organizations fall into is thinking that leadership is only done at the senior level. This top down approach leaves major voids in the organization in the critical areas where things really get done. Moving leadership development programs further down the ranks will produce significant results.

Myth 4 - Effective leadership is based understanding the assumed and the hidden cultures.

Finkelstein and Mead in their blog: TheThree Myths of Leadership Development that effective leaders learn how to get things done by understanding the formal decision making process (org chart, titles and functions) and the informal decision making process (influencers). As they wrote:  

“Unearthing the unspoken acknowledges the "hidden culture" within an organization. This is the stuff that is asked after the meeting or at the water cooler. It is how decisions are made (or not made) and the "unofficial" way to get resolution to a problem. Asking about the unspoken gives a voice to what is really happening in your organization, above the surface and below it.

Most organizations build leadership development plans around an assumed culture and forget to ask what the unspoken culture is. Failing to do this will render a leadership development model less ineffective than it could be. By openly talking about your company's unspoken culture, be sure to identify and distinguish between the "real versus ideal" cultures. Dig deep into what's unspoken in your organization and make it safe to enable change to occur, from all levels throughout. Now... go make it happen.”

Leadership is about the future, not the past. Joel Barker's has the best quote about leadership, "A leader is someone you would follow to a place you would not go to by yourself." Good leaders gain followers out of respect and their ability to cause people to work toward a particular goal or achieve a destination. People follow because they can relate to the vision or goal personalized by the leader. A good leader helps people become better than they are. A good leader creates a work environment that attracts, keeps and motivates its workforce.

Myth 5 – Training Does Produce Sustainable Changes in Behavior. 

C. Thomas Smith and Dr. Colin J. Hahn in their blog “Leadership and Soft Skills: Development Myths Exposed”  point out that:

This is the most stubborn myth to dispel as most development efforts fail to achieve the expected change in behavior. But, this conclusion begs the question by assuming that the training was designed properly. What if the format of the training itself is the issue?"

"Time.Com recently published an article called “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired’ that identified the lack of soft skills as the leading factor in the (un)employability of new graduates.  This work triggered another study that examined soft skills development for graduating students found that the highest ranked learning methods for leadership and soft skills for students entering the workforce were:

  •          Experiential Learning
  •          Role Playing and Demonstration
  •          Team working methods
  •          Case Studies/Problem Solving
  •          Extra-Curricular Activities

This list is notable for what it doesn’t contain: nowhere on this list are lecture-driven instructor-led training sessions or rote eLearning content. Yet, those two techniques are the dominant methods for delivering soft skill training. Is it any wonder that training fails to demonstrate real results when it is delivered via ineffective methods?”

Leadership development can become a reality when its myths are replaced by the reality that: