I gave myself some time over the holidays to clear out some things that no longer serve me, whether they were old habits, items in my closet, or just thoughts in my head. In 2021 I’ve already begun to notice many more thoughts and assumptions that no longer serve me, personally and professionally in my work with organizations.
As I experienced this process of “clearing out” I noticed there some major themes emerging. I have examined letting go of certain myths in past blogs. To continue on that theme, here are five myths that I used to think were true – and that now I realize don’t serve any of us, and can actually be harmful to our leadership practices, and our organizations as a whole.
Top Five Myths to Release in 2021
- The myth that people can be controlled. I can’t remember when I first heard this myth, but I believe I learned this as an expectation. In any hierarchical chart, we are supposed to control the people who are “under” us. This is where the business phrase “span of control” arises from that tells us we shouldn’t be supervising more people than we can control. I no longer think this belief/myth serves our organizations. People are living entities and therefore can’t be controlled. They can act like they are being controlled, but underneath there is a free soul who is choosing how they show up each and every day.
- The myth that change starts at the top of the organization. For decades I believed that change always started at the top of the organization. If leaders weren’t involved or present for the training or change process, it was doomed to fail. Now I realize how many advancements were stopped by this belief. If you think about it, this myth ensures that no change will happen unless it was in the best interest of the top leaders of the organization. Today I know that organizations are living, interdependent organizations. Interdependence means that change can start from anywhere because the connectivity of the system can make many individual actions coalesce into large system change.
- The myth of objectivity and rationality. I used to think that it was possible to be entirely objective and that this type of “true” rationality was the sign of a healthy organization. Now I realize that we all carry biases (conscious and unconscious) that make objectivity a myth. I believe consciousness and mindful awareness are much healthier perspectives than rationality. Rationality implies that reason divorced from emotion is the way to lead. I believe emotional intelligence is as important as clear thinking in every aspect of life.
- The myth that my employees need me more than I need them. This myth is a tricky one. The prevailing wisdom of organizational leaders is that they are needed by their direct reports. And, in fact, direct reports are rewarded for their recognition of the “importance” of their boss. When I became a Vice President, I realized I needed my staff much more than they needed me. Their thinking, readiness, and active support of change were essential to move the organization forward.
- The myth that people are disposable. This myth comes directly from the assumption that organizations are machines and people are cogs. If something isn’t working, replace the “cog” and the machine will be fixed and PRESTO – everything performs well. This myth has caused managers and leaders to avoid the difficult work of learning how to develop people. If we begin to see people as essential and that our relationships are sacred, how would it change the way we treat people in our organization?
The pandemic has been a fertile ground for me to clear out old ideas that seemed right at the time, but now don’t seem to fit the way I see the world. I’d like to know any other myths you would like to add to this list.