5 Myths About Leadership

“The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.” – Whitney Griswold (The New York Times, Feb. 24, 1959)

Karen Elliott House, newly appointed publisher of the Wall Street Journal, is working hard to make the paper’s employees “feel happy and appreciated,” according to an article about her in a recent issue of The New York Times. When employees are happy, “that’s when everyone works best,” she says.

This is a common view among workers and new managers, but it’s not one held by many experienced managers I know.

Effective managers don’t waste time trying to make people feel appreciated. They understand that their job is to get a certain kind of work done. Effective managers would rather have happy employees than miserable ones, but they know — from experience if not from intuition — that you don’t get happy by trying to be happy but by working hard on a worthwhile goal.  The myth of seeking happiness is just one of about a half-dozen myths that every ambitious person needs to understand.

In his book titled “No-Nonsense Leadership,” Dave Anderson presents four more myths:

MYTH #1: Employees want to become empowered. Giving them power makes them more responsible, productive, and profitable.

I SAY: Empowerment works with good people and fails with not-so-good employees.

WHAT TO DO: Give people the power they need to do a good job. Don’t give them more than that unless you have a good reason for doing so.

MYTH #2: Micromanaging is unproductive and dispiriting.

I SAY: Most employees want to be micromanaged. The less thinking they have to do, the better they like it.

WHAT TO DO: Micromanage only when and where you have to. The problem with micromanaging isn’t that your people won’t like it but that it takes too much of your valuable time. If you hire good people, they will need only the most modest amount of micromanaging and only in the very beginning.

MYTH #3: Everyone has unlimited potential.

I SAY: You don’t have enough time to test that theory.

WHAT TO DO: Get rid of the weakest 10% to 15% of your direct subordinates every year and try to upgrade your team by hiring only top-notch people.

MYTH #4: Employees need to be given tangible rewards for their hard work: extra pay, better benefits, a nicer office, and other fringe benefits.

I SAY: You can’t bribe people to work better. How they work is a matter of deeply ingrained habits, habits that are not likely to change because of any incentive you throw in front of them.

WHAT TO DO: Pay attention to your top performers. Compliment them when they do well and correct them when they err. Your growing approval of their growing skillfulness will be their most happy reward.

Can you think of other widely held business or success ideas that are totally unfounded? If so, please write me at www.earlytorise.com.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]