Over the years, we have all been inundated with bits and pieces of management wisdom, whether we get them from business books, leadership seminars, conferences or chit-chat by the water cooler. Our heads are full of proverbs, clichés and implicit beliefs about how the workplace should work. This “conventional wisdom” can be highly influential, guiding the way we run our offices, manage our teams and interact with our colleagues.
But what I’ve noticed over my many years in management and consulting roles is that a good number of these bright ideas simply don’t work. The fact is, most of the bits of “wisdom” we carry around with us have never been tested. Their worth has never been proven. And yet they persist, leading us to implement the same policies we have been trying for years – over and over again – hoping each time for better results.
I propose we stop this insanity, and focus on techniques that work. But first, we have to dust off our mental shelves and examine some of our most closely held beliefs about how to manage. Here are some of the most common leadership myths, which are guaranteed to limit your ability to lead effectively.
Myth #1: Everyone’s opinion should count.
Even in a democracy, not every decision is up for a vote. And your workplace is most certainly not a democracy. You and your team must get used to the idea that buy-in is not optional. The organization needs its employees’ actions – not their opinions – to succeed.
Myth #2: There is no “I” in team.
When you spout this tired old idiom, you are in effect encouraging team members not to take personal accountability for results. Each employee needs to assess his or her own contribution honestly – without using circumstances or interpersonal challenges as a buffer. Only in this way can teams learn from past failures and produce results.
Myth #3: Accepting accountability for failures leads to a loss of credibility.
Do you find it difficult to own up to your failures? Maybe you think it damages your reputation and undercuts your credibility. In fact, the opposite is true. By taking responsibility for your mistakes, you demonstrate your ability to adapt and improve – instilling a sense of confidence and respect in the people who rely on you, whether it’s your team or executive management.
Myth #4: There is no such thing as a stupid question.
Leaders must stop allowing employees to pull them away from their core responsibilities with stupid questions such as, “Why do things keep changing?” or “Why doesn’t anyone tell me anything?” or “Who thought of this?” These questions imply blame and undermine personal accountability. Moreover, any answers you can provide aren’t likely to satisfy the asker or move the conversation forward. My advice: Help employees ask better questions like, “How can I get the information I need?” or “How can I help?”
Myth #5: “Don’t bring me a problem without also having a solution.”
Instead of reducing unproductive complaints, as is normally intended, this well-worn decree actually keeps many problems from being identified and managed. That’s because today’s complex, multidisciplinary teams often make it impossible for a person to single-handedly develop a solution. Individuals should feel free to identify issues and risks, while teams should solve them.
Myth #6: In uncertain times, it is best to wait for clarity before taking action.
The problem with this belief is that clarity does not present itself through thought and planning alone. Many times, it is only through action and subsequent reflection that you can begin to see the path ahead. By wading in instead of holding back, you can identify risks, work through obstacles and uncover opportunities.
Myth #7: Great results can only come from perfect plans.
There are no perfect plans or decisions. All of them are bound to have their fair share of holes, risks and downsides, so don’t try to make them faultless. Great teams can have great success at implementing average plans as long as they commit to doing whatever it takes to mitigate the risks and achieve results in spite of the challenges.
I’d love to hear from you. Are there any leadership myths you’ve had to dispel to achieve results in your organization?
Cy Wakeman offers a Reality-Based approach to navigating today’s workplace, defying conventional wisdom with bold tips for business leaders and employees on how to “ditch the drama, restore sanity to the workplace, and turn excuses into results.
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