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A good deal of what we think we know for sure about leadership, and how good leaders behave, often turns out to be wrong. On Linked 2 Leadership, Leonard Doohan, a professor emeritus at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., offers these fallacies about leadership to beware of:

Leaders empower others

Leaders who seek to empower others are well-meaning, but they are taking a rather limited view of the individuals they work with.

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People actually come to their jobs with many abilities and skills. Leaders must avoid entrapping these naturally empowered individuals, and set them free to use the power and skills they have.

Leaders lead others

This has long been viewed as the main function of a leader, and easily becomes the first instinct when promoted to leadership. Again, Prof. Doohan argues that this is an old-fashioned notion, because people are inclined to self-lead.

The key is to recognize that inherent self-leadership as one of your organization's greatest untapped resources and allow it to blossom. "Let people lead themselves; in most cases they don't need you," he notes.

Leaders don't tolerate dissent

Most organizations – and their leaders – are determined to squash any dissent. But Prof. Doohan sees dissent as energizing. Instead, leaders should worry about silence and apathy. Critical thinking is fine, as long as it's combined with a collaborative approach.

People can learn collaboration

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Many leaders want to knit collaborative skills into their team, even bringing in consultants to help. But he says that learning collaboration is not simple, because people must first unlearn non-collaboration before collaboration can begin. Check that your company doesn't have a non-collaborative attitude and structure; if it does, that will have to be fixed first.

Leaders control development

Senior managers often see it as their duty to control the organization's development. That's impossible, of course. But even more, it's dangerous thinking, because it nudges the leader toward controlling rather than liberating behaviour.

As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner noted in their book, The Leadership Challenge: "Leaders know that the more they control others, the less likely it is that people will excel. Leaders do not control. They enable others to act."

Power is limited

People often view power as being limited and finite. But Prof. Doohan contends that power can be shared and is expandable. If leaders use their authority to help employees have control and power over their own lives, the organization will benefit.

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Charisma is desirable

Charismatic leaders are often sought after because it's believed they will energize an organization. But he argues that charismatic leaders are generally autocratic. They presume that they have the "correct" vision, and that their subordinates are empty and passive. The result? An organization filled with empty and passive people.

Once a leader, always a leader

It is usually assumed that people who have displayed leadership in the past are able to continue leading effectively. But as institutions change, as well as our understanding of leadership itself, it becomes clear that some of yesterday's leaders are no longer fit to be at the helm.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More


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