THE FIVE MISCONCEPTIONS OF LEADERSHIP
By Alex Ihama, Author, The Mystique of Leadership and World Renowned Leader!
After speaking on leadership for decades, I realized that the fundamental challenge of people in positions of
authority is not the lack of knowledge, rather the abundance of inaccurate information. In my coaching and
consulting engagements with corporate executives, politicians, pastors and even professors, I discovered that
the truth they know about leadership has been eroded over time by the prevailing misconceptions about it.
Just like you must peel an onion to reveal the freshest part of it, you must debunk the misconceptions of
leadership to understand what it truly means. The process of peeling an onion is often uncomfortable to the
point of tears, but afterward, freshness is revealed.
It is so with leadership – you must debunk the misconceptions to gain indisputable clarity.
It is beneficial to know where people and organizations get it wrong with leadership and why many parts of the
world struggle to understand the true essence of leadership. Identifying the most common misconceptions
about leadership was a fascinating part of my research for my book, The Mystique of Leadership.
It revealed what leadership isn’t, why it usually fails, and the root causes of ineffective leadership in
governments, organizations, churches and other institutions. A misconception is a conclusion that was derived
based on inaccurate presumptions, or faulty thinking. It is a misconceived notion based on incorrect
information. In the words of Jeffrey Pinto, “In no other area of management education is the concept of myth
as prevailing as in leadership.” I found this statement to be true.
While my research turned up twenty-one significant misconceptions, I elaborated on ten and highlighted the
top five in the first chapter of my book. Going through them gave me many ‘aha’ moments. It helped me to
understand the reasons for leadership failures, which everyone complains about but only a few can explain.
As you go through these common misconceptions of leadership one by one, examine your own understanding
of leadership so that you can seize the opportunities to learn, unlearn and relearn as I did. I have learned that
people’s progress is hindered, not often by what they don’t know, but more so by what they think they know.
I have learned that many people are sincere about their leadership endeavors, but are unfortunate victims of
our misconceptions. There may be some elements of truth in these misconceptions but are not significant
enough to be considered as part of the leadership phenomenon. Unfortunately, an increasing number of those
in positions of authority are failing in leadership because of these misconceptions.
1. THE MISCONCEPTION OF POSITION
Some people think leadership is about the position because leadership is often associated with job titles.
This misunderstanding has deceived more people than all the other misconceptions combined. It has
created the illusion that once you attain a certain level of authority, you become a leader. This is untrue.
You may become the head of a department, but not necessarily the leader in that department. The leader
is the one who serves and sacrifices the most for a worthy cause. And if that is not you, you are not the
leader, but rather merely the person with the position of authority. Job titles are not indicative of
leadership but demanding of it. They are nothing but identities of your role and responsibilities.
In The Mystique of Leadership, I wrote about the implications of communications that are circulated within
organizations and how the words used unintentionally reinforce this misconception. I wrote about how the
quest for positions have crippled the essence of leadership in the lives of many people, and how to renew
your mind regarding this misconception.
Being the governor of a state is a rank of authority, just as a high court judge. But until you begin to
demonstrate the leadership capabilities of informing, influencing and inspiring others, you are not a leader,
but merely a person in the role of authority. In fact, no one has the right to claim the title of a leader. It is
conferred informally by the beneficiaries of your hard work and sacrifice and by the consistent excellence
of your character and service. You are not a leader, therefore, until you are determined enough to be one.
2. THE MISCONCEPTION OF POPULARITY
Some people think leadership is about popularity because those in positions of authority are often more
popular than others. This misconception often brings out the worst in those who strongly desire popularity
and fame. They think that becoming a leader will make them the boss, the one with the answer to every
question, the one in the forefront of every matter. This is untrue.
Without a question, everyone has a desire to feel loved, respected and appreciated; however, some people
consider leadership to be a way of gratifying this innate and burning desire for praise and recognition. It
isn’t. If your main objective in life is to become popular, your talents will be wasted. You can’t seek
leadership and admiration at the same time.
You don’t have to think deep to recall in your mind some people who have lost it all for the sake of
popularity. I have learned that the desire for popularity hinders effective leadership. It creates a repelling
demeanor around you that will deter others from associating with you. It eventually destroys relationships
and derails the visions, goals, and objectives.
3. THE MISCONCEPTION OF PROSPERITY
Some people think leadership breeds prosperity because those in positions of authority are perceived to be
rich. No other misconception about leadership breeds greed and corruption as much as this. When you
assume a position of authority with this misunderstanding, theft is inevitable.
Leadership is not about prosperity, but rather about philanthropy. It is about sacrificial giving and selfless
service to humanity. Until you are willing to sacrifice even the little that you have for the benefit of those
who have no way of expressing gratitude to you, you are not ready to lead.
In The Mystique of Leadership, I examined the lives of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey, and
discovered that they never sought out money. They simply summoned enough courage to passionately
pursue their purpose to the extent of eventually breaking through their financial challenges.
What about you? What about those around you? How disciplined are you when it comes to the finances
you are responsible for in your position of authority? This is the misconception that creates the mindset
fostered by the greedy and corrupt, the mindset that has bankrupted global organizations and destroyed
the economies and potentials of many countries.
4. THE MISCONCEPTION OF POPULATION
Another prevailing misconception suggests that since people tend to follow those in positions of authority,
leadership must be determined by how many people follow you. Many people in positions of authority are
becoming people pleasers because of the naïve notion that the numbers of people in their government,
corporation, church, community or college are indicators of their leadership effectiveness. It isn’t.
Leadership is driven by purpose and not by population, by the vision and not out of a desire to please. It is
more about the purity and nobility of the vision. It is about empowering people to achieve their purpose in
life and not delay them from fulfilling it. Exceptional leaders inspire other people to discover their purpose
and talents and then help them develop the skills required to advance the vision.
As explained in The Mystique of Leadership, true leadership is not about growing the size of your followers,
but rather by nurturing their true potential. Strikingly, the number of supporters does not demonstrate
true leadership; in fact, few followers may indicate effective leadership. While size may be relevant to your
vision, it is not a determinant of your effectiveness.
5. THE MISCONCEPTION OF POWER
Some people think leadership is about power because of how powerful some people in positions of
authority have become. Leadership is not about power, but rather about empowering other people. It is a
mindset of spirituality sacrifice and service, of humbling yourself so others are exalted.
Like popularity and prosperity, power is a possibility when you ignite your leadership spirit, but it should
not be the motive for aspiring for positions of authority in the first place. In the words of the 19th -century
politician, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Indeed.
The power I referred to in The Mystique of Leadership is that of using authority to command and control
people, as some politicians, executives, and pastors do. This power can be conferred upon you by others,
acquired by force, garnered by social and religious status, or bequeathed by lineage through royalty.
But regardless of how you possess this power, it does not automatically make you a leader. You must
consistently demonstrate the principles of exceptional leadership to be considered one. Having too much
power in your hands does not make you a leader. On the contrary, it can easily make you a dictator. In fact,
I have realized that the more power you possess, the likelihood of it possessing you in return.
Adolph Hitler of Germany, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Saddam Hussein of Iraq are examples of this. The
amount of power they amassed turned them into dictators. They abused the laws of their countries and
committed crimes against humanity. Their abuse of power resulted in the death of 50 million people.
After having coached many politicians, executives, entrepreneurs, academicians, and pastors, I have
learned power only exposes weak character. It indicates a weak mind, the lack of substance, a hunger for
authority. Nothing exposes ignorance more than the pursuit of power, and nothing reveals strength more
than the deposition of it. You cannot become an exceptional leader with a grip on power with both hands.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
As you will realize in The Mystique of Leadership, revealing these five misconceptions of leadership set the
foundation for everything else. As human beings, we have the natural tendency to desire position, popularity,
prosperity, population, and power, and the pursuit of them indicates the lack of self-control. To become an
exceptional leader, therefore, requires us to be consistently aware of these natural tendencies, while
maintaining absolute focus on the vision. To order copy of The Mystique of Leadership for your organization,
click here: http://www.balboapress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.aspx?bookid=SKU-001047283
About the Amazing Alex Ihama
Alex Ihama is a global leadership and management consultant with over two decades of experience in
enabling governments, corporations, churches, communities, and schools to develop the capacity and
abilities they require to achieve stringent goals and objectives.
An executive coach to politicians, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes and a host
of elite clients, Ihama travels the world extensively each year to inspire thousands with his messages of
greatness, hope, organizational success, leadership and personal accountability.
More information can be found at www.alexihama.com.