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Not everyone is born to lead and other management myths

I recently met up with Marissa Mias, marketing coordinator on my team, to discuss why some of the most infamous management myths exist, shared perspectives, and provided some tips to help managers at all stages of their career (watch the video). We scoured the internet, tapped our networks, surveyed hundreds, and leveraged our own experiences and education to come up with what we believe to be the five most relevant management myths standing in the way of managers becoming leaders and taking their game from good to great or great to greater.

Much of this is my own opinion. I hope you find it helpful. I’m also very curious to hear your thoughts (especially if you disagree) so I too can use this as a learning experience.

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Being a great leader ultimately comes down to personality and self awareness.

Myth 1: Leaders are born, not made

Some of us are lucky enough to possess the raw talent needed to be a leader, while others are left to follow. If you believe that, then you likely think leadership isn’t a learned skill. You either have it or you don’t. It’s like royalty, right? OK, maybe that’s a step too far but you can start to see how ridiculous this myth is.

Coincidently, The Predictive Index (PI) recently closed a survey of just under 6,000 people to understand what traits they believe make the best managers (full report coming soon). The top desired trait of managers was work ethic, followed closely by honesty, confidence, positive attitude, and a sense of humor. Obviously, none of these traits are natively programmed in us. They are the result of our upbringing, our experiences in life and work, and our mindset.

Being a great leader ultimately comes down to personality and self awareness. If there was a trait that all great leaders have in common, it’s that they are often quite comfortable in their own skin and possess an acute awareness of their blind spots. If you’re unsure of your own awareness level, you can use personality assessment tools. For instance, the PI Behavioral Assessment measures the underlying drives, or factors, that predict your behavior—dominance, extraversion, patience, and formality. Understanding your highest drive can help you identify what leadership style may be most natural for you.

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It’s also important to note that although we (the royal we) view the terms synonymously, there is a difference between leadership and management. Management is all about creating, or controlling, an environment (things or people) to achieve desired results. Managing means doing what’s required of the job description and achieving results as efficiently as possible. On the other hand, leadership is espousing to the core values of the company, while keeping your own integrity in check. It’s leading by example, inspiring others to be their best, and often putting their needs ahead of your own. It’s being keenly aware of your impact (positive and negative) and always trying to put it to the best use.

I only bring this up because leaders don’t have to be managers. Remaining steadfast in your values, helping others, remaining positive and even-keeled in times of stress, starting tough conversations,  and identifying elephants in the room should never be something relegated to those with management titles.

One of the most important data points you can collect to help develop as a leader is feedback. Because self-awareness is critical to being a great leader, you need to continuously give and solicit feedback. Sure, great leaders know how to build an environment that makes it easy to deliver feedback, but I think equally, or even more important, is the skill of receiving feedback. Both ways require practice.

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Don’t use actual feedback sessions as practice! Prepare and practice when you plan to deliver feedback. Regularly ask your team members for feedback. Don’t get defensive. Say thank you. There’s always something you’ll get from it. Believe me, you and your team will all be better for it.

Great management takes experience, an open mindset, and a will to always be optimizing.

Myth 2: There’s a formula for management success

Obviously, all those great managers you see are part of the super-secret management success league. They’ve learned of the formula and are keeping it all for themselves so they can rule the world. Mwhahaha!

Although it would be pretty amazing if there was one process or methodology that could guarantee the success of you and your team, unfortunately there is no silver bullet. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (let me know if you’ve found it! I’d love to be wrong on this one).

If there was an understood formula, I don’t think Amazon would currently be offering over 200,000 management books. That number alone speaks to complexities and nuances of management. Think of all the stars that have to align for a person to be a great manager, at the right time, in the right business, to generate the best results. Great management takes experience, an open mindset, and a will to always be optimizing.

That said, there are some basic principles and theories that I have found to work well with my own style and approach for getting a team aligned and humming. You can read them here on my LinkedIn profile.

Spend less time getting perspectives from those who agree with you and more time talking to those who disagree or see things differently.

Myth 3: Consensus is the ultimate goal

Newer managers may feel that it’s their job to ensure everyone on the team is in complete agreement, thinking this is the only way to gain commitment and achieve results. Not only is this complete rubbish, but it can be awfully dangerous. Striving for consensus can breed group-think, brown nosing, and having a bunch of yes-people. Not to mention it can slowdown or even paralyze progress.

Alignment, not consensus. It’s important that as a manager you spend your time encouraging your team to share perspectives, speak up when they disagree, and engage in healthy conflict to get the best results. It’s your job to make decisions or delegate the decision-making power to someone else on your team. Of course, you can’t even take this approach if you haven’t set proper expectations and demonstrated that you’re open to differing opinions and solutions.

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Managers must exercise self-control and encourage disagreement. Spend less time getting perspectives from those who agree with you and more time talking to those who disagree or see things differently. Jeff Bezos uses the phrase “disagree and commit” when talking about the culture at Amazon. When there is mutual respect and trust, it’s amazing how people can commit to a plan even if they don’t agree entirely with how it’s being carried out.

Myth 4: You have to know how to do every job you manage

Although it may make sense for small or new teams, I believe feeling the need to be able to fulfill the requirements of each of your subordinates’ jobs is unrealistic.

It’s the manager’s job to focus on macro issues to manage things and people. Although it’s absolutely critical to get dirty in the day-to-day, whether to lend a hand or gain context, managers need to remember, they hired people for a reason. I think when you start to peel back the layers of this myth, you may find confidence issues lurking beneath its surface. Whether a manager doesn’t have confidence in themselves or they don’t have confidence in their people, the result is that there are people who are spending too much time doing someone else’s job.

Now, if you have all the confidence in the world in yourself but not in your team, then micromanaging may be necessary. This also sheds light on a hairier issue, as it’s likely time to make some changes on your team. You can avoid this all together by hiring up. Always shoot to build a team you feel proud, or even unworthy, to be on and manage.

Ultimately, great management is what your people do when you’re not around. You need to have confidence in your self and deep trust in your team to be firing on all cylinders.

Hiring is the most leveraged decision a manager can make. 

Myth 5: Hiring is something HR does

HR can be a fantastic partner in helping managers attract, select, onboard, and retain the best people. Partner is a very important word here. When it comes to hiring, it pains me when I see managers who think they can simply send HR a job description and wait for interviews to be lined up on their calendars. As a manager, you are closest to the pain points, needs, drives, and behaviors that are needed to get your team firing on all cylinders. Make an effort to sit down and give HR guidance before and during the recruitment process so they can optimize their process and who they are targeting.

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I’ve talked to many companies who view hiring entirely separate from management. Sure, large companies may have a stand-alone talent acquisition team, but that doesn’t mean HR’s on the hook if no qualified candidates are in the pipeline or a bad hire is made. Hiring and management are one in the same. Hiring is the most leveraged decision a manager can make. Think about it. Who you hire can radically change your team’s dynamic, performance, and directly relates to your own management ability.

Recruitment and building a strong candidate pipeline is probably the most difficult part of hiring. As a manager, it’s your obligation to always be networking and helping to fill the candidate pipeline. Here’s something to chew on—we all want to hire A-players, right? Are A players more likely to be out applying for jobs (active candidates) or are they more likely to be gainfully employed and crushing their goals (passive candidates)? This is why HR departments place such a great emphasis on employee referral programs. As managers, there are things we can do to help fill the candidate pipeline with passive candidates.

In addition to helping build out a solid candidate pipeline, networking at events, through LinkedIn, or through friends and co-workers has the added benefit of helping you on your own management development journey. I recently started using a networking strategy on LinkedIn that has opened the door to many interesting conversations and led to a few hires at PI.

There’s an ounce of truth in every myth

There is at least one central truths that runs through all of these myths—without self-awareness and trust in others, you are unlikely to go far in management and/or leadership.

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Drew is a PI Certified Partner, and the Founder & CEO of Lever Talent.

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