Leadership Myths


There are a bunch of leadership myths that are constantly floating around. People hoping to get into a leadership position believe them to be true. People new to a leadership position quickly discover they aren’t true and then flounder while they look for actual leadership truths.

From time to time I’ll “myth bust” in this blog and the first myth and want to expose is perhaps the biggest and most damaging too.

It’s the myth of the Leadership Position. Many people think that leading has to do with a position or title. Some, with military experience think it has to do with rank. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Leadership is about influencing others. Good leaders exert positive influence and bad leaders exert negative influence.

Leadership is about caring. If you truly care for others, then and only then do you have a chance to truly lead.

You must earn permission to lead those that would follow.

Let me give you an example of all three wrapped up in one true story. This is going to get long so my apologies up front.

My wife and I taught a college age Sunday School class for many years at our former church. I’m pretty sure we learned as much or more than the kids we were supposedly leading. But one “lesson” in particular has stuck with me for many years now.

There was a young man, just graduated from high school that joined our class. His name was Jeff and he was the poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder. I really wasn’t looking forward to him joining our class because he was a real character and I thought it would be tough to keep him focused on the week’s lesson.

It was. He was all over the place, we never really knew what he might do from week to week. But he clearly loved the Lord and we soon discovered that his antics brought a smile to not only our face but everyone’s in the class.

One day, Jeff told us that he would be leaving in just a couple of weeks because he had joined the United States Marines. I was more than just surprised and it was probably as close to moving to Canada as I’ve ever been. I figured if Jeff was going to be protecting our country we were in big trouble.

In what seemed like no time at all Jeff was back from basic training and preparing to ship out for combat duty in Iraq. I saw him at church just before he left and I really wasn’t sure what to say to him, so I just said something dumb about being careful over there. He responded with a rather loud, “I’m a United Sates Marine, bullets and bombs can’t hurt me. I don’t need to be careful, I just need to protect the guys in my unit.”

Well I figured those Marine trainers had given him a full dose of that marine stuff and that Jeff and his parents would need a lot of prayer.

Jeff’s tour was pretty uneventful, that is until his very last mission “outside the wire,” on his unit’s last patrol before leaving for the U.S., the lead vehicle in their convoy hit a roadside bomb. Their Sargent was killed and several others were wounded. Thankfully, Jeff was not injured.

Not long after that Jeff was back at church while home on leave. I joined a group of guys talking with him in the lobby and asked him how “it” was. His answer shocked me – he said it was no big deal. Except he said for the fact that “the Sargent” got his “fool head blowed off” on the last mission.

It was as if he had ice water in his veins. He had aged years in just those 12 months. His youth was gone and now he was a man.

I had the opportunity later than morning to talk with Jeff again, this time we were alone in the coffee shop. I asked him again how “it” was and with no one else around to “man up” for his answer was very very different.

He said it was terrible, that he had seen things he would never forget. He said that on every mission his Sargent was more concerned for his men then he was the mission. He said that the Sargent willingly took a position in the lead vehicle because that while that was the most dangerous place it was also the best place to be to keep his men safe.

Jeff had tears in his eyes now as he spoke about how every member of the unit wishes it was them that was killed and not their leader.

That Sargent was outranked in the unit, there were others higher up in the chain of command. But he had earned the permission to lead by showing he cared. He didn’t wait for the top leadership position to lead, he assumed leadership because it was the right thing to do and because he truly cared for his Marines.

But what about his influence? Well let me tell you about his influence on Jeff. (and I expect many others) I haven’t seen Jeff in a few years but the last time I talked to him he was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan for his 4th tour of duty. This time Jeff was the Sargent leading his Marines. I once again told him to be careful but this time his answer was completely different. He said he couldn’t be too careful because it was his job to get the married guys home safe. He would assume his position in the lead vehicle to protect the men he would lead into battle.

This poster child for Attention Deficit Disorder had become a leader. Influenced by a Marine that was killed protecting him. Influenced by a Marine that showed him what true caring looked liked. Influenced by a Marine that earned the right to lead without being in the top leadership position.

Influenced by a Marine that clearly didn’t buy into the “position” leadership myth.

You can lead today if that is what you want. Don’t wait for someone to make you a leader because they can’t. Only you can make you a leader so get busy and start earning the right to truly lead.

12 thoughts on “Leadership Myths

  1. I have to say this is one of the best leadership posts I’ve read, Steve.
    I’m in tears right now.

    That’s what it’s all about. Genuine caring, love, and service. Being that example and modeling it. I don’t want to get in a foxhole with anyone else.

    Thanks for sharing this moving post Steve.


    1. I think about that young man often and all that he taught the teacher. There are so many leadership lessons from his experience.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my post!

      1. You’re welcome Steve.

        ‘Some, with military experience think it has to do with rank. Nothing could be further from the truth.’

        Ohhhh the stories I could share on this from my time in service! I learned fast how to discern between a decent leader and a ‘wannabe’ simply based on how they treated me if they outranked me. If they treated me with common decency and respect even though they had positional authority over me, that is what earned my TRUE respect. They understood the difference between a pay grade and genuine leadership.

        And I’m not just referring to men when it comes to ‘power trips’. I saw a few women in the higher rankings that were just as bad as the men when it came to that.

  2. Excellent post Steve! Great leadership is really a heart issue and is not about position. You CAN and SHOULD lead from where you are. This is also my mantra- Leadership is for Everyone! Thanks for your work here!

    1. Thanks Joe! I believe that leadership is as much a heart issue as it is a head issue. Fact is, if your heart doesn’t care for your people you’re not going to need your head for much.

  3. Very touching Steve – that’s a very touching post. Perhaps sacrifice is also a leadership trait? And when I say leadership I’m not talking about leadership that is taught, but about real leadership, the kind of leadership where leaders put their followers interest ahead of theirs.

    1. You are absolutely correct. Authentic leaders sacrifice, they willingly give of themselves for the good of their followers. So many people aspire to leadership positions because of what’s in it for them. They too often fail to earn the commitment of their people because people are very good at spotting selfish leadership. Great leaders are selfless and we not only see that, we can feel it from them as well.

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