Five Management Myths – Busted

The world of leadership and management is riddled with myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings. What’s more, many of these myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings can quickly become embedded in organizational thinking and influence the attitudes and behaviors of leaders and managers. 

So, what are the key myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings that leaders and managers should challenge?

1. People are born to lead

The myth of the ‘born leader’ is long-standing. It is the belief that genes and talent decide everything about a person so that people who are ‘born to lead’ have no need of further learning. 

Øyvind Lund Martinsen, professor of organizational psychology at BI Norwegian Business School, disputes the idea that leadership success can simply be attributed to genetics. 

“Leader attributes are associated with personality traits,” he says, noting that these traits are genetically-based, with scientific studies of twins showing that genes explain “a substantial amount of leader emergence”. Nevertheless, genes alone do not make a successful leader. For example, Martinsen argues that while the personality trait of extraversion is associated with leadership, it is not necessarily a condition for effective leadership. 

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“Extraverted individuals will need to behave in conducive ways to succeed as leaders,” says Martinsen, “and behavior must be learned.”

2. You need to adapt to change

Not if change occurs faster than the company can adapt, according to Thorbjørn Knudsen, professor of strategic organization at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. “In the face of rapid, disruptive change, it is better to stick to what the firm does well rather than wasting resources on futile adaptation.” 

Knudsen believes that in times of rapid change, it may be more prudent to dissolve a business than to “engage in desperate adaptation or useless continuation”.  He concludes: “Claims that adaptation to change is a path to success should be ignored – unless justified by solid arguments about the path forward.”

3. A culture of helpfulness and collegiality in organizations “grows from the bottom up”

“Senior leaders in organizations typically leave building healthy interpersonal relationships at work to the employees,” notes Anne ter Wal, associate professor of technology and innovation management at Imperial College Business School in London. “Managers don’t want to be seen to be meddling in interpersonal affairs and consider themselves too busy to get involved in the nitty-gritty of how people do, or do not, help one another in the day-to-day conduct of their work.”

Ter Wal believes that by taking this attitude, managers are ignoring the fact they “play a critical role in promoting a culture of helpfulness and collegiality through leading by example”. He explains: “Employees are often weary to seek help for problems in their work, as they fear coming across as incapable or believe colleagues are simply too busy to help out.”

It is down to leaders, says Ter Wal, to set norms that helping each other is perfectly normal and should be encouraged. They should make a point of reaching out for input and advice from others. After all, problem-solving through interpersonal advice and exchange is a hallmark of a productive and effective organization. 

“No one knows everything and no one is too busy to help others out – and that includes senior leadership,” argues Ter Wal. 

 4. Diversity and inclusion policies are cost-free.

It is important to acknowledge that the implementation of diversity and inclusion policies will often involve costs and trade-offs, especially in the short term, says Lutfey Siddiqi, visiting professor in practice at LSE IDEAS, the foreign policy think tank of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Diverse teams can take longer to gel,” he explains. “But once they do, they can be more effective in more situations than their non-diverse counterparts. 

Siddiqi points out that sourcing a diverse slate of interviewees for a vacancy, or investing time and effort to fully engage colleagues who bring a diversity of styles and perspectives, may seem to clash with short-term commercial objectives. For this reason, he believes it is important that leaders of diverse teams (who may have been promoted for their technical expertise) are trained in inclusive leadership.

“Inclusive leaders are tone-setters,” he says. “In the way that they set strategic objectives, provide clear guidance in the face of trade-offs, or simply conduct meetings, they create the necessary conditions for diversity to flourish.”

5. Taking on consultants will increase your performance

Popular belief holds that bringing in consultants is a great way to increase a company’s performance. “They are a common go-to when looking to bring a fresh perspective on problems plaguing companies,” says Jérôme Barthélemy, professor of strategy and management at ESSEC Business School in France. “This is because they provide insight into industry practices and can compensate for skill sets that are lacking.” 

Nevertheless, Barthélemy recommends proceeding with caution before hiring consultants. “Research shows that they improve your performance overall, but also reduce both extremes of performance,” he explains. “This means that they will ensure that you thwart disaster, but they could also preclude you from achieving outstanding results.”

For example, a recent study looked at wine houses that used outside consultants to help them make their wine. It found that the overall quality of the wine improved once the consultants were involved. The wine houses with the best wine consistently eschewed the use of consultants, however.

“The reason for this finding is that while consultants will bring you standard, tried-and-tested practices, they aren’t going to revolutionize your business,” says Barthélemy. “You shouldn’t hire them with the goal of improving the upside, but of reducing the downside.”

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