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5 Stubborn Leadership Myths You Should Abandon Immediately

5 Stubborn Leadership Myths You Should Abandon Immediately
  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
How do you know you haven’t fallen for a leadership myth that simply isn’t true? Answer: Sometimes you don’t. Too many leaders hold a few damaging core beliefs that simply aren’t true. Myths are everywhere in our culture. It’s not that hard to roll our eyes at people who fall for urban legends. That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate, a site dedicated to debunking urban legends. Remember the stubborn myth a few years back about hotel operators using hotel key cards to download all your personal information? Because I stay in hotels regularly, so many people warned me about my hotel key. Thanks Snopes … But there are also leadership myths: things that most leaders believe are true that really aren’t. I think we’ve all fallen for a few. But how many stubborn leadership myths are you still falling for? Once you abandon them, you’ll be amazed at the progress you make.

Five Leadership Myths You Should Abandon

Here are five that I hate to admit I have fallen for at one time or another in my leadership.

1. Success will happen overnight.

Who hasn’t fallen for this? And if you don’t believe it, you’ve secretly wanted it, haven’t you? Yet there are very few overnight success. Whether it’s bands like PassengerThe Band Perry or even the Beatles, musicians often struggle in obscurity and near defeat for years before they break through. Same for writers, businesses and many other leaders. Even North Point Church, launched in 1995, actually declined in attendance from its initial launch over its first few years before rebounding and becoming the story many church leaders know today. Just ask any of the founders: They’ll tell you those first few years were lean and very difficult. So what do you do? Set realistic expectations. Work hard. Celebrate progress, even incremental progress. As Winston Churchill (whose life was characterized mostly by disappointment prior to Word War 2) said, success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill

2. Smart work, not hard work, will win the day.

OK. Working smarter is better than simply working harder. Very true. Working 100-plus hours a week is the answer to very few problems and completely unsustainable for more than a season. If you can be more efficient and more effective, by all means do so. But smart work is no substitute for hard work. Working smarter doesn’t mean you can put in a few hours, hit cruise control and coast to victory. You will always have to work hard on your leadership. You’ll always have to work hard on leading yourself, your team and your mission. That might not mean 70 hours a week, but it won’t mean cruising into the sunset. When you stop growing, so do the people around you. And eventually, the good people will leave. They want a leader to push them and push the mission forward.

3. I will get universal buy in.

This myth is so seductive. There will be a day when I become a good enough leader that I will announce our next move and everyone will applaud wildly, right? Nope. That day will never come. You might get most people to buy in, but you will never get everyone to buy in. This kills most leaders because it causes them to procrastinate. The myth makes them ‘wait’ until all the conditions are right to launch their big move. Conditions will never be perfect. ‘Everybody’ will never buy in. Sometimes you just need to lead. If you want to read more about how to lead change in the midst of opposition, I wrote Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change While Facing Opposition to help leaders lead without universal buy in.

4. There’s a silver bullet.

So there’s one thing that will turn everything around, right? A silver bullet? A model I can just embrace and press play and everything will magically be wonderful? Right? If I only became a North Point strategic partner, my church would automatically grow … If I only had person X on my staff, all our problems would be gone … If we had a brand new building, it would solve all the issues we’re facing … Right? Wrong. As my friend Casey Graham says, systems trump silver bullets. And they really do. If you have a problem, the system you’re using created it. To change the outcome, change the system. There is no easy way out.

5. One day I will arrive.

No you won’t. And if you do, you’ll arrive to learn you’ve missed the point. Effective leaders keep growing. They never stop. One of the characteristics of great leaders who stay fresh is curiosity (I wrote about how to become a more curious—and less cynical—leader in this post). They are just relentlessly curious, and the curiosity keeps them growing. Organizations that become complacent, like people who become complacent, inevitably decline. The more successful you are, the more you will be tempted to think you have arrived. That’s why the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success. Busting those five leadership myths have helped me grow as a leader. How about you? What myths are you busting through?