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The old ideas of leadership are alive and unwell.

The mindsets of this old leadership paradigm are still pervasive, permeating our organisations and institutions. They include the myths that some people can lead, but most can’t. Leaders are born – not made. And you need to be ruthless and dominating to lead.

It’s very empowering to demystify these, and get clear on what leadership is – and is not. And this has never been more urgent or important, because wow – each day presents multiple invitations for each of us to lead.

So let’s bust a few myths and demystify what leadership is and isn’t.

Leadership is not:

  • A personality. Even though you did that personality test which said you were an analytical introvert, or a superficial Libran – it doesn’t mean you can’t lead! Giving too much power to one’s personality – as if it is fixed in stone, sets us up for excuses – not leadership. It denies our ability to grow and change. There is no one leadership type.
  • Your feelings. Whether you feel like a leader – or you don’t – has no relevance as to whether you can actually lead. Too often we get seduced into a feeling trap, giving them too much importance. Feelings come and go. They can’t be summoned. Leaders can feel terrified or unsure. A leader has feelings. A non leader’s feelings has them!
  • Dependent on your past or on your history. In Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography The Story of My Experiments With Truth, he  reflects on his callowness as a youth and young adult. He was fearful. He was a mediocre student and lawyer. He had deeply unimpressed the relatives who had supported him after his studies. Imagine what the world would have lost if Gandhi had referred to his past for evidence of his ability, and declared he wasn’t leadership material!
  • Your identity. For some, because our view of leadership is based on the current dominant paradigm, (and we don’t yet know that this can be upended), we believe we are not leaders. This is especially true for women, young people, or if you aren’t educated. “I’m just not a leader” becomes your identity or label, which then limits you if this isn’t reimagined.
  • Something you can only be anointed to. This is when we think someone has to tap us on the shoulder to lead. Leadership is not an appointment. I think of the women in villages who were overlooked and marginalised for generations. Only the older men were considered leaders. Yet the women seized their own authority to make the changes in their villages that were important to them, even without the agreement of the powers that be.Leadership is:

    A choice. As the world famous leadership expert Prof Dumbledore once said, “It’s our choices Harry, that show us what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Being a leader is a moment by moment proposition. Only each person can choose whether they show up and respond, and how. None of us can always choose the situation we are in, but we can always choose a leader’s mindset in any given circumstance.

    Purposeful – leading requires something meaningful enough for us to take action on. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Climbing a career ladder and going for promotions is not leadership. There’s nothing wrong with that, but leadership is about seeing something that matters, and taking responsibility to get it resolved. You decide the what and the how.

    Occurs in action. Sitting around chatting about plans, or getting into political debates with friends about the state of the world – and not then taking action – isn’t leadership.

    Contextual. No-one is a leader in all situations at all times. It requires context – and context can be created for leadership to emerge in ourselves, our teams and our communities. One of the responsibilities for leaders is to create the context for more leadership to arise in others.

    Available to everyone. At the heart of the new paradigm of leadership is a deep and fundamental truth – that we are each more capable than we think, and whilst our circumstances and conditioning differs, we each have the same inherent ability to choose a leaders mindset.

    Over the next week see if you notice any of these myths about leadership getting in your way. Reflect on what really defines leadership. Together we can be part of retiring the old, stale paradigm, and ushering in the type of widespread, diverse leadership we need to solve our 21st Century problems.