When Did Women Get The Right To Vote Leadership Myths and Demons

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Leadership Myths and Demons

We think we understand leaders and leadership. And to some extent I think we do. But we work with great leadership mythology– Curious notions that have developed over time, such as urban legends—and ghosts-Blaming leaders for the bad things in the world or being suspicious of leadership.

Leadership myths are pervasive and persistent. What troubles them is that the people who trust them often fail to reach their leadership potential – and they sometimes hold others back. Legends and ghosts get in the way like obstacles on an obstacle course.

Consider these myths:

  • Leaders are born.
  • Leaders are men.
  • Leaders are rich.
  • Leaders are especially charismatic.
  • The leaders are white.
  • Leaders are excellent communicators.
  • Leaders are simply managers who have more power.
  • Leadership is authority.
  • Leadership is hierarchical or positional.
  • Leadership cannot be taught.

You can give single examples for all these statements, but an example does not make a law. On the other hand, an example to the contrary will invalidate what one thinks is a law, and we can point out many exceptions. None of these statements can be generalized to all leadership in all times and cultures.

For example, I’ve never met a leader who wasn’t born, so proclaiming that “leaders are born” as if it’s a successful invention. But many people still believe that leadership traits and skills are innate from birth and that’s it. If you don’t get the leadership gene from a crab, the argument goes, you’ll never be a leader.

This idea is reminiscent of the medieval feudal approach to the divine right of kings. But the claim that leaders are born and never “made” does not stand the test of experience.

Leaders are men, and rich men. really? Joan of Arc was neither a man nor a rich man. The same can be said of Harriet Tubman and Mother Teresa. Are unqualified leaders male and many leaders wealthy? for sure But this historical fact says more about women’s lack of access in certain times and cultures than innate ability. And more than one wife has led from behind the scenes, when her husband, the elected or expected leader, could not or would not. Ask Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

Leaders are not leaders unless they show charisma. Wrong again. President Calvin Coolidge was a brilliant man, but charisma is certainly not a word associated with his memory. Charisma is not necessary. The non-charismatic “Silent Cal” still got things done.

Leaders are as diverse in personality and gifts as the leaves in a forest of trees. Native American speakers Tecumseh and later Chief Joseph were leaders of the lost cause and were not white. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not only a first-rate orator, but also one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement. The biblical Moses, undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders who ever lived, struggled with poor communication skills, at least initially.

Leaders are just hyped-up managers. No, leaders can be good managers and some managers can have leadership skills. But leaders are more influential than just managers. Leaders lead and managers, well, they manage. We need them both.

Leadership is not just for those who have formal authority, power or position. Talent and tenacity trump titles any day. This is a lesson from the American Revolutionary War. It took the ragtag colonists about eight years to do this, but they managed to chase down the Redcoats and punish the king. Women without power or position—yet leaders—from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Until Anthony, American women worked throughout the nineteenth century to gain the right to vote, eventually ratified by the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Even “title-less” leaders get things done.

Consider these ghosts:

  • Leaders are robbers.
  • Leaders are anti-democratic.
  • Leadership is Machiavellian, meaning manipulative.
  • Leadership is tyrannical.
  • Leadership means to threaten or coerce.
  • Leadership is controlling, authoritarian.
  • Leadership is the opposite of service or “servantship.”

For some reason, our ideas about leadership tend to revolve around “bad guys” and their desire to conquer the world. Lex Luthor in the Superman movies. Adolf Hitler in real history. Some people cannot think of leaders. In this view, leaders are self-promoters, “politicians” who cannot be trusted. Only “people” will be on the right in the end.

Some of these attitudes toward leadership have been fostered by American democratic culture. Not since we ousted King George of England and our George left the first presidency have we had complete faith in a leader.

Some of this skepticism is justified. Some leaders do not deserve the loyalty and power they command or usurp, and some leaders leave behind lasting bitterness. Richard Nixon is a recent example of the highest profile in America. And historically, the world has undoubtedly tolerated evil leaders—from the Old Testament King Joram, of whom it was said, “He died, no one regrets,” from Genghis Khan to Nero to Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein to Kim Jong-il, sadly. The rogues gallery is full.

Bad people are dishonest, anti-democratic, manipulative, tyrannical, coercive and authoritarian. Yet their record makes us morally questionable person Holding positions of leadership, there is nothing intrinsically irreplaceable about leadership in general.

Leadership is a tool. Humans as free moral agents can exercise leadership for good or evil. Leadership always comes back to character.

As a people who can choose, we can choose leadership. None of these common myths or demons hold water in the end, and none of them should prevent anyone from becoming a leader if the will and opportunity calls for it.

Part of what makes leadership so attractive is that leaders come from all walks of life and walks of life. No one is excluded. For this we can thank God and a democratic and free country where individuals matter.

Tom Brokaw described an entire generation as a leader. He mentioned in his book The Greatest Generation Survivors of the Great Depression and World War II are losing thousands of lives every day. This generation was “the greatest” because they answered the call time and time again. He led by example, commitment and participation. These men and women measured their challenges and in some cases gave the “last full measure” to defend what they believed in.

The question before us now is who will replace the leadership of the Greatest Generation? It can be you and don’t let false myths and demons get in your way.

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