The Leadership Myth–Actually, just one of many…

Many consultants, academics, and self-proclaimed management & leadership gurus perpetuate the myth that “Leadership” is some lofty, intrinsic skill that you just “arrive at” through timing, opportunity, and sometimes “birth.”. Those same experts will then explain how “management” is a basic, simple skill learned by reading books, attending classes, and being developed in a regimented fashion.


The connection between leadership and management is inextricable. The two are so interconnected that spending time arguing about the differences is akin to arguing whether a plane can fly more because of it’s shape or engine thrust. It takes – needs – both to work correctly. The same hold true for leadership and management.

How about a definition of leadership that makes sense, and one that includes the obvious skills of a manager, since it’s preposterous to assume that one could be an effective leader while being a lousy manager. Leadership, then, is “The successful combination of effective management practice, coupled with the personal credibility and the ability to motivate others.” There. A long way from rocket science. Let’s take a closer look at the 3 components: effective management practice, personal credibility, and motivational ability.

Effective Management Practice is the foundation. I’ll say again that it is absolutely ridiculous to assume that an ineffective manager could be a truly successful leader. A manager’s core function is largely “control;” control is necessary for a leader to “lead” in the right direction. The foundation for leadership, then, is the ability to manage effectively.

Personal Credibility is necessary, since leadership is “personal.” People don’t follow merely because someone has a business card that says “President,” or “Senior Vice President,” or “Manager.” People follow because they believe. They believe that the person has a positive vision and direction. They believe that their leader is going to be successful, and they want to be a part of that success. And finally, they believe that their leader cares about them, collectively as a group, and individually.

The Ability to Motivate is likely the most significant step “up” for an effective manager to become a successful leader. A leader, to be successful, must have that ability – the inherent skill – to convince others that what they are doing, or about to do, has worth and meaning, and they will be better for it. Leaders provide the catalyst for people to “do more,” not just “do enough.” Leaders know that positive motivation, done correctly, is long-term, versus the short term approach from using fear. In everything they do, in every interaction, the “what’s in it for me” is apparent.

So, if leadership and management are so closely linked, yet all the business books and magazines describe “leadership” as the almost-holy grail of a senior professional, how do we get there?

I have good news:

Leadership is not a birthright; it’s a learned skill. That’s right, another myth bites the dust. Except for a handful of obviously charismatic leaders mentioned in every history book (some good, many evil), leadership is a set of learned skills that we acquire through very traditional means, such as training, coaching, and other leadership development efforts. Leadership, then, can be taught.

If leadership consists of management skills, personal credibility, and the ability to motivate, and we also know that it can be learned, then the sooner we embark on this path of knowledge, the sooner we can begin using these newfound leaders in our organizations. Take the first step.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

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