The L-Myth

The L-Myth

Posted by in Leadership, The Leadership Coach™

In his bestselling book “The E-Myth” Michael Gerber attacks some common misconceptions around what it means to be an entrepreneur. He debunks why people become entrepreneurs, what a business really is, and helps explain why so many people struggle with their small business that was supposed to give them “freedom”.

I believe there’s an L-Myth too. The Leadership Myth has kept many a capable person from believing they could lead others.

Millions of people have accepted fallacies like these-
* “Real leaders are born leaders” – as though it’s a birthright… yet so many of us need to lead, even when it doesn’t come easily
* “You need to be an extrovert to be a leader” – as though it’s a personality type… yet some of the best leaders in history were quiet achievers or introverts
* “The leader has to be the smartest person in the room” – as though it’s an IQ test… yet many smart people don’t lead, and many world-class leaders didn’t finish school let alone their PhD
* “You can’t learn to be a leader” – as though it’s a completely mysterious art… yet there is a science of leadership too

In many ways I write these articles on The Leadership Coach™ for the 90% of leaders who find themselves leading out necessity. Not because they were born leaders. Not because they love the limelight or were the best and brightest. But because there was a need or an opportunity and they stepped up.

I actually believe that leadership is more an attitude than it is a position. That it’s more about the way we carry ourselves and our organisations than it is about the corner office or the fancy title.

Everyone leading. That’s the goal. Thinking like leaders, acting like leaders, making choices like leaders, carrying the vision like leaders, taking responsibility like leaders.

So great companies don’t build leadership structures, they build leadership cultures. They harness the latent leadership in all of us.

It’s time we rethink leadership.

So what do YOU think are the myths or half-truths people believe that keep them from becoming the leaders they could be?

I’d love to hear your comments and feel free to use the links below to share this article with others

Paul Andrew is Founder of The Leadership Coach
He is a Keynote Speaker and Management Consultant based in New York

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32 Responses to “The L-Myth”


    10. Mar, 2011

    First I want to thank you for your wise word. Out of my personal circumstances…my family and friends back in the day said; you don’t know anything – you are just big mouth – I thank you people like your wife that gave me the opportunity to bring forth my gift and talents – Yes all can be a leader in their own right – somebody in their world to see potential (your wife have seen it in me) and willingness (from myself) to grab the opportunity and make the most of it – thank you again

  2. Paul Andrew

    10. Mar, 2011

    We all need somebody like that, Marina. And I love your thought that it takes BOTH others lifting you and UP you being willing. So true.

  3. Jenni

    10. Mar, 2011

    I thank you for your L-Myth. We were once told here at work that you had to be born a leader… of which i dont agree. I was not born a leader but i know i have leadership qualities in me and I have had good people around me who have built into me to lead. The biggest problem that i have experienced in my leadership is Respect & Accountability. I have been open and honest with people who then just trample all over you. I have also been the hard and by the rules kind of leader and then they just bitch about you. They say it is lonely at the top and i see why… i was born at a time when you respected your elders or leaders. And it’s not that i have a team of young people??? People dont want to be held accountable and i dont think they want to be lead. i certaily know they dont want you to challenge them. They make that very clear. I question my leadership all the time and wonder why i am here.

  4. Anne

    10. Mar, 2011

    Hey Paul – I love your emails!!! It’s almost as if I were channelling you (in advance) last week when I started a new position with a large rehabilitation company. I got an interesting offer to become their People and Culture officer and absolutely jumped on it as it meant I could use my coaching skills to build and develop the staff individually. My big focus at present is leadership and emotional intelligence: traditionally allied health staff are used to “directing” their clients and develop their “leadership” around the same style. It may work in a hospital (at least for a while) but not in the compensation and litigation health system. Your L-myth email was insightful and I had the exact conversation just 3 days ago with a delightful employee whose self-doubt was a boulder for all the reasons you listed!! It was great to see it put so succinctly! You bet I’ll be using your words of wisdom as the intro to my staff training next month (attributed to you my friend of course 🙂 ) Hope New York is a blast: keep up the awesome inspirational work – Anne (in Adelaide)

  5. Don Cooper-Williams

    10. Mar, 2011

    Paul, as always inspiring-totally agree on the L myth you have themed. Many of the stereotypes have been promoted through the movies and the way that they depict leaders. eg. Never short-only tall people have that attribute.
    Never bald- need to look a certain way to lead
    Thousands of small insdious notions that have trapped many fine potential leaders from rising to their gift or opportunity.
    Another trap is that they either need to have published or be rich, again stunting the talented from taking hold of the leadership capability that they can bring to a situation.

    Lastly in a risk averse, comfortable, let ‘someone else’ thinking world, many wait to be asked to ‘lead’. When you look for someone to lead, you normally choose the person who is doing the leading first.

    quote i heard, not sure where: “We don’t need more books about leaders, we need more leaders to write”

    Thanks for the inspiration

  6. Regan

    10. Mar, 2011

    Hi Paul, excellent email mate! I loved it and it is all so accurate. I’m currently in between presentations to a Site Supervisor training program in the building industry here in Oz. We are dealing with these exact situations in real time as these guys step up to manage and lead building sites. Your background and education matter very little in our context if you cannot gain the respect of sub-contractors and engage them at their level – thereby creating a culture of action and motivation. I totally agree that leadership is an attitude – thanks again Paul

  7. Paul Andrew

    11. Mar, 2011

    Jenni – I think your sentiments are shared by so many leaders. The truth is it’s NOT easy leading people! That’s the problem of the “born leader” mythology. It’s hard work, and it’s a skill set we develop. And even when we become good leaders it’s no easy task. BUT when we succeed and truly lead, when we develop people (painful though the journey may be) into leaders themselves… the fruit justifies the labor along the way.

  8. Paul Andrew

    11. Mar, 2011

    Wow thanks Anne – what an encouraging note. I LOVE the “People and Culture Officer” – every company needs one! I might quote you on that!!! Thanks

  9. Paul Andrew

    11. Mar, 2011

    And interestingly when leaders do what you described, people follow them…. naturally!

  10. Paul Andrew

    11. Mar, 2011

    Great thoughts as always Don. You’ve added some important myths, a kind of Hollywood Character Leadership – chiseled features, fearless, feels no pain. I feel a book brewing….

  11. Paul Andrew

    11. Mar, 2011

    Thanks Regan- I love that you’ve hung leadership on “gaining respect”, not background or education.

  12. Michelle

    10. Mar, 2011

    I believe another L-Myth is that it is a leader’s job to get people to follow them. I believe that the main job of a leader is to see and develop the potential in others. A true leader uses the resources available to them to honor and promote others. This creates an organization that is as large as the vision and gifting of all of it’s members as opposed to an organization that is limited to the vision of one person.

  13. James Tonn

    13. Mar, 2011

    I love this quote: “…great companies don’t build leadership structures, they build leadership cultures. They harness the latent leadership in all of us.”

    Another few L-myths i’ve encountered:
    – Aggression is strength
    – Speaking is more important than listening
    – one needs to be in a position of leadership in order to practice it.

    Thanks Paul. JT

  14. Paul Andrew

    13. Mar, 2011

    Yes, definitely seen those myths at work. And the last one is such a trap – it keeps people from being ready when the opportunity to lead arises.

  15. Gail

    15. Mar, 2011

    FYI – “People and Culture” Officer / Manager / Director is the latest term for HR positions. We are likely to see more people with that title very soon.

  16. Gail

    15. Mar, 2011

    Great thoughts Michelle! Just because you have a leadership position doesn’t mean anyone is actually Following you! If no-one is following you are you actually a leader?

  17. Gail

    15. Mar, 2011

    Here’s a few more L-Myths:

    * You have to lead from the front – True leaders can lead from the middle and the back as well as the front.

    * If you are a leader you have to lead all the time. – Leaders can make bad followers, as they don’t want to let go of their ego long enough to support someone else.

    * Servant leadership means you have to do everything yourself. – Great leaders can delegate responsibilities as part of serving to their team.

  18. Marita Garcia Sanchez

    22. Apr, 2011

    Yes I also believe that it is more of a voluntary attitude for one to be able to lead a culture that has not been existing but the leader wanted to build within the organization. It needs patience, perseverance, and sometime tolerance to the negative results of our programs for them to be embraced and accepted. Though its hard to make it end to positive realization in so short of time, in the final end it will redound to our best expectations. Our Faith can also help us to tackle every sacrifices we do for others we lead.

  19. Neen James

    23. Apr, 2011

    I love your movement of Everyone Leading – bravo my friend! If we empower everyone to lead that will increase ImpactivityTM

  20. Paul Andrew

    28. Apr, 2011

    I guess this idea really struck a nerve with people from the number of comments!

  21. Marise Morel

    13. Jun, 2011

    I’ve just read the Inner Circle test. I have just gained a promotion! Timing….I’ll be working with several teams in a coordinating type role. newly created…so i get to run with it! exciting…so here is your inner circle test, just waiting for me to ponder & answer. Thanks. I’m going to print this & keep for easy reference.
    I’ll also pass it on to others where i can.
    An L Myth….Someone else will do it!

  22. Paul Andrew

    14. Jun, 2011

    Congratulations on the promotion Marise… it’ll be a great opportunity for you to put the Inner Circle principle into effect as you look over who you have around you. Go well!

  23. Melinda Walker

    02. Aug, 2011

    I bleieve that by being the best version of us that we can be that we are already being leaders. If we can show others around us how to step up and out of our comfort zone and to do those things that make us uncomfortable but that we know are good for us, then that is essentially a key quality in being a good leader. A leader is someone who leads by example, so be the example that you want to set by embracing something new, that doesn’t feel good but that you know will help you in your journey but more importantly help others to see, that change and courage are not such a terrifying thing. Leadership is all about your stength and letting it shine through

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