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Jettison Three Obsolete Assumptions About Leadership


As the world burns, leaders are smarting from the heat – metaphorically speaking. When leaders grapple with unfamiliar and complex challenges, most feel vulnerable and fear failure. Sound familiar? According to Jerry Abrams from the Center for Creative Leadership, these “heat experiences” are unsettling and yet offer unique opportunities for growth. And grow we must, since many widespread beliefs and practices regarding sound leadership are ineffective at best in our present circumstances.

Obsolete Assumptions

Start by examining whether your assumptions about effective leadership might be faulty as times change. Not surprisingly, many widely held beliefs about the characteristics of good leaders are very likely inaccurate and could be holding you back.

Consider the following three:

Unbending convictions signal self-confidence and strength.

Do you believe that effective leaders should rely on the certainty of their world view? Consider this: If you think that your opinions are the same as reality, you may be signaling weakness instead of strength.

The courageous recognize and entertain the possible validity of diverse points of view. Genuinely self-confident leaders appreciate that their history and experiences shaped their understanding of the world.

They are attracted to differences because they like to stretch and grow. As a result, they constantly pursue diverse worldviews and opinions. They own a deep self-awareness of their perspective and the realization that it is merely one of many.

Leaders are usually heroic.

Some believe that the best leaders stand out from the crowd and are more capable than their peers. Yet in these challenging times, heroics usually fail.

Respected leaders recognize that their strength depends on relationships with others. Rather than seeking to rise above the crowd, these leaders focus on building bonds and appreciating others’ capabilities. They are willing to shift their focus from their own needs, to what is essential for the good of all.

A good leader disregards emotion and relies on rational thinking.

Logic and emotion are both significant aspects of human experiences. Effective leaders for these times know that they do not have to choose between the two. A leader who discounts one or the other is likely to miss the creative and innovative solutions that our world’s complex problems require. Now is the time to embrace our humanity.


Lack of Control and Discomfort

Many people experience discomfort as their control over their work and lives slips. Unfortunately, the circumstances we face now are so complicated that personal power often feels out of reach. We can’t merely remove the virus, its economic impact, or the raging racial tensions spreading throughout our society.

Nevertheless, most of us can take advantage of the opportunities the heat experiences offer. By acknowledging that what has worked for us before may be ineffective now, we can find new and better ways to lead.

Face the Heat Head-On

In a now-classic Harvard Business Review article, authors David Rooke and William Torbert argued that leaders who pursue deep self-awareness and personal development can transform their capabilities and those of their companies. They suggested that what differentiates leaders is not so much style or skills. Instead, it’s how they make sense of the world and how they act when they feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability, while uncomfortable, can bring about growth if we quit fighting it. Those who are trying to suppress their feelings of vulnerability by acting as if they are in complete control, are only fooling themselves. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you are more willing to entertain the possibility that some of your assumptions must change.


Perhaps the world has shifted faster than our opinions about the best ways to lead in it. Most likely, we all hold many views of leadership that call for our reconsideration.

Though we did not choose the circumstances that face us now, we do have an opportunity to slow down, explore, and learn. Stand up to the heat. Scrutinize your assumptions about leadership. Examine whether your beliefs are still valid in a diverse and complex world that continues to change at lightning speed. Root out those that no longer hold up, and remain open to changes that will enlighten your leadership.



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