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Leadership: Busting the 6 Myths


I’m sitting here in Izmir, Turkey.  The sun has just set over the sparkling Aegean Sea.  Our partners have finished delivering our Ignite leadership coaching skills course, to some very happy customers.  Everyone worked really hard, and I saw the personal and professional transformation in these people over 2 days.

Apt then, that I’m reviewing my notes for my forthcoming book on transformational leadership, collating all the myths that people have shared with us when they start their workshop with us.

  • “Leadership is complicated”
  • “Decisions are difficult”
  • “There are too many conflicting priorities”
  • “Win-win conversations are impossible”
  • “Leadership needs to feel hard – otherwise it’s not working”
  • “Transformation never takes off or gains traction”

Yes, leadership development is a complex area, never more challenging than in today’s environment. Leaders are under pressure to deliver more for less, get the best from their teams and achieve at full potential.

The world of work is complicated enough.  But just because leadership is challenging, it doesn’t mean it has to be overly complex, or feel hard.

As Steve Jobs once said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” have just published the findings of a survey by Booz & Co.  They believe that –

“…most managers are boiling over with frustration because they have too many priorities that clash with one another. …the paths their companies are on won’t lead to success, and employees and customers don’t understand what their managers are trying to do.”

Here’s some of the Booz & Co findings, quoted in the Forbes article:

  • “64% said their biggest frustration was having too many conflicting priorities.
  • 54% said they don’t believe that both employees and customers understand their strategy.
  • 33% said they thought the company’s “core capabilities” support their company’s strategy.”

Too many ‘conflicting priorities’, no-one understands the strategy and the core capabilities don’t support that strategy anyway.  No wonder leaders, executives and managers are feeling frustrated.

My mission in writing the book is to cut through that complexity.  To make transformation and leadership feel easy.  So that readers can be more successful: as a leader, an executive, a manager and a team-player.  Here are some of the myths I’m on a mission to bust –

  1. People don’t have the necessary competences.   In reality, organisations ask too much of their people and they lack self-belief and confidence as a consequence.   OD and HR professionals need to be clear about what is really needed – at each level in their organisation – and build well-rounded teams, rather than expecting to create or find superhuman individuals.  On a personal level, building your professional credibility, such that you can truly step into a leadership role, is a number 1 priority.
  2. People can’t get the resources they need. People don’t know the way around their own organisations; they haven’t worked out the visible and invisible structures; or how to access available resources. When I work with private clients, I often find they haven’t stopped to take stock of what is available.  This creates a feeling of needing more – which can oftent lead to their colleagues looking on them as ‘draining scarce resources’.   It’s important as well to understand  “The way we do things around here” – that get things done – or not.  I don’t mean finding your way around the building – or the petty politics either – but the unwritten rules.
  3. I need to lead by being powerful and authoritative.  Leadership is like a dance – we need to step between different styles.  Leaders can grow their confidence by knowing their natural leadership preferences, and when and how to flex between different styles to achieve different aims. A key myth about leadership is that the perfect role model is the all-action hero – a combination of Wonder Woman and Superman.  One of the secrets of leadership is authenticity – and one focal area of the book are leadership principles that anyone can adopt.
  4. Sustained transformation is impossible.  Leaders struggle to deal with coping with business as usual, quality improvements, change and reform, and strategic business transformation – all at the same time.  This is all about ways to retain clarity.  When to step up to the strategic horizon and when to roll up your sleeves and get operational.   How to make considered business decisions that don’t leave you lying awake at night.
  5. Communications are two-way.    (Cue hollow laughter.) I’ve mentioned this before in this blog – so you’ll know where I’m going.  In this 21st century connected world, communications are multi-faceted, and effective leaders focus on value-driven communications in collaborative, engaging ways.  It’s the responsibility of leaders and executives to communicate strategy: competently, such that the key messages land and their people know where the organisation is going – and what’s expected of them, personally.
  6. Leadership conversations have to be difficult.  This is the myth that we enjoy busting the most.  One of our earliest pieces of market-feedback was discovering that a coaching style of leadership prevented difficult conversations – by heading them off at the pass. Thanks to our friends in Brisbane, Australia, we now have the evidence that leaders who’d been through our coaching skills courses reported that they are actively using the tools learned 18+ months later.  This is because they make those annual appraisals, project and performance review conversations into constructive, engaging and yes, enjoyable events.

My own leadership priority is to get the book finished and out in the world.  I have this vision of connecting a printed copy with an e-version, linked to online tools as well.Transformational leadership plan

Thanks to my coach, I’ve set myself a personal challenge of consistency.  Biting off one manageable piece at a time.  To this end I’ve created a 6-point plan.  I’m sharing it with you, not because I think it’s the magic formula – but because one of the secrets of success is to make your goals public with people who’re interested in and supportive of what you do.  As a reader of this blog, I include you in that group.

I’m not one of those people who can ‘just do it’ – much as I admire those who do.  I need my plan to give me structure to what I do, and when.  So whichever of the leadership myths you’re trying to bust today, I recommend you start with a pencil, a fresh sheet of paper and a sunset.  Nothing could be simpler.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

4 thoughts on “Leadership: Busting the 6 Myths

  1. Hi Helen,

    don’t know much about personal goal setting – I am sure you know more about it.

    but I know a bit about finishing off a book as I just finished a novel after 4 (four) years of struggles. And I learnt that it takes twice as much to do the final editing than it took to actually write the damn thing if you do not have time alone for that and no interruptions. And if the book is longer than 100 pages, you cannot go through it in one day and see the big picture of what you are doing.

    so, here it is – can you take at least one week off and do only that, with no interruptions?

    • Oh Adina – you ask the 64,000 dollar question. A week off – no interruptions. I’m hoping to get that in the middle of August.
      And, I really appreciate what you’re saying about seeing the big picture of what I’m doing. One thing I am learning is that the big picture keeps changing. Some things stay in – others get thrown out. But seeing the whole is a really helpful comment for me. Thank you!

  2. Hi Helen

    Great list of myths to challenge…

    If I may, I would like to suggest another.

    That ‘leadership’ is an outside job ie; it’s all about what we ‘do’ to others through our decisions and actions.

    As opposed, of course, to it being based upon an ‘inside’ job ie; building upon our self-awareness and self-knowledge to ‘be’ that leader, before applying ourselves (if I can phrase it that way) and our leadership style to others and to the organisation itself.

    In my experience, leaders typically rush to action wanting to be ‘at cause’ and create impact as soon as possible, without being able to – or knowing how to – access their inner awareness or EQ; an ability that would enhance their influencing skills significantly.

    In fact, research shows that EQ aware leaders can increase their effectiveness by a factor of up to 30% more than those leaders working without that skill.

    Good luck with the writing….

    • Thanks Caroline – yes, a really interesting point. Thank you for sharing – and thanks for the good wishes!

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