Top 5 Biggest Myths of Leadership

Often in life things are repeated so many times we all just assume they are true, even if they are either partially or completely false.  Having worked with thousands of student leaders and listened to many leadership “experts” I’ve continually heard a number of things about leadership that simply are not true.  I’d like to share with you the 5 biggest myths I continually hear about leadership and set the record straight on the truth about each of them:

Leadership Myth #1 – “Leadership is a Choice”

Imagine you are walking down the street and see a woman and her two children struggling to get out of a burning building; you decide to run over, grab them out and rescue them to safety.  In a moment of crisis, you acted with courage and did the right thing, which would certainly lead to people commending you for your leadership in the situation.  Did you technically have a choice?  Sure you did, but in reality any decent person would certainly have rescued that family.  We are faced with thousands of times in life where we need to be a leader whether we want to be or not, such as with siblings, children, friendships, romantic relationships, internships, organizations we are involved with and countless others.  The bottom line is we are all called upon to be leaders regardless of if we want to or not; it is how you act in those situations that ultimately determine your capabilities as a leader.  Don’t walk through life wondering if you are a leader but rather accept the fact you are a leader whether you want to be or not and then focus on doing your best when those thousands of situations come your way.

Leadership Myth #2 – “People are Born Leaders”

Research continues to prove the simple fact that people are not born leaders, but rather are shaped by the people around them and their experiences in life.  We are not born hard-wired to either be a leader or not be a leader and those that attribute someone as a “born leader” are lying; nobody was born that way but rather became a great leader through a series of people and experiences in their lives.  If you want to become a great leader it is 100% within your control, it wasn’t pre-determined one way or the other when you were born.  You can quickly become a great leader by reading leadership books, gaining leadership experience and surrounding yourself with people who have great leadership traits.

Leadership Myth #3 – “Leaders are Assertive & Elected”

Too often people assume that leaders are elected and that these elected individuals must be assertive – the incorrect implication here is that someone who is not elected cannot lead and someone who is introverted cannot lead.  As described in Myth #1, leaders come in all shapes and sizes, it isn’t strictly something for someone who is elected and assertive.  Leaders can emerge from anywhere, such as a member of an organization who takes the initiative to do something despite not being elected to an official position.  Leaders can also lead in a wide range of ways, not just by being loud, assertive, boisterous and aggressive.  If you want to be an exceptional leader you can accomplish it immediately by being your authentic self, not waiting to be elected and then transforming into an assertive person because you were told that is what leaders are supposed to be like.

Leadership Myth #4 – “College Degrees are Critical”

A few days before I went off to college I happened to be talking to a complete stranger who gave me an incredible piece of advice – “don’t let your classes get in the way of your real education”.  As I continued to get involved in more organizations and take on more leadership roles in college, I never lost sight of this. I learned FAR more from leadership experiences, internships and mentors than I did from anything out of a text book taught by a professor who had little or no experience actually doing what they were a so-called expert in.  If you believe your college degree entitles you to anything you are in for a huge letdown because employers don’t care about where you went to school, they care about your skill set and if you can produce for them in their environment and will put a premium on those that are leaders rather than followers.  Your degree isn’t critical – what is critical is what you learn, who you learn from, how hard you work and what leadership experiences you have.  Focus on opportunities to join great organizations, obtain great internships and work your absolute hardest every chance you get.  If college degrees were critical then the world’s most successful people would all be Ivy League educated and have advanced degrees which certainly is far from reality.  It is fascinating how little correlation there is between where you went to college (or if you even did) and your propensity to be a great leader.

Leadership Myth #5 – “Luck and advantages are important”

Do you know who says that successful people are lucky and have certain advantages?  People that aren’t successful.  If you look at leaders that you admire, start from the beginning of their journey to success and I can guarantee you that a prevalent theme is that they worked exceptionally hard.  Regardless of where people start off, the cream always rises to the top and the hardest workers always end up being the “lucky” ones – if you want to be a great leader simply work hard at it and you will experience success.  Those that rely on getting lucky or waiting for an advantage usually do just that, they wait and wait for something to happen that never does.  We all create our own opportunities in life and great leaders take the initiative to create their own “luck” rather than waiting for it to magically happen.

Credit // Tom Healy

Tom Healy delivers a straight-forward message that is customized for your audience and will lead to a positive change in behavior. He believes that your campus community deserves to hear the truth (even if it hurts) and be given action-oriented ideas that will produce great results. Learn more about Tom and his program, Limitless Leadership, at