5 Myths About Leadership and People Management

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What are some of the most common leadership myths modern leaders have been led to believe? How does buying into these myths hurt your leadership?

When it comes to leadership and people management, there’s no manual to follow. According to Buckingham and Goodall, the authors of Nine Lies About Work, many modern leaders still harbor dangerous misconceptions that hurt their employees, and ultimately, their organizations’ bottom line.

Here are five myths that still permeate modern leadership thinking.

Myths About Leadership and People Management

In their book Nine Lies About Work, Buckingham and Goodall discuss the ineffectiveness of conventional approaches to leadership and people management, which seek to eliminate individuality so that companies can more easily control employees. The authors’ main argument is that individuality should be seen as the main feature of human beings, not as a glitch—recognizing and nurturing what makes people unique makes them perform better and feel more fulfilled.

1. People Should Work on Their Weaknesses

The authors say employees are typically evaluated on their core competencies or specific skills required for the job. Those who are proficient at most or all of the competencies are given opportunities for advancement. Meanwhile, those who demonstrate weakness in some areas are held back from promotion, even if they have specific (though limited) strengths. These employees are then required to work on their weaknesses to become more well-rounded and, thus, have a chance to move up the ranks. However, the authors argue that focusing on improving weaknesses in this way erroneously equates excellence with well-roundedness.   

2. “High-Potential” People Will Perform Better in the Long Run

In the second misconception, the authors discuss how companies use performance appraisal systems to gauge employees’ competencies. From there, well-rounded team members—those who are proficient at more skills—are classified as “high potential,” while team members who exhibit weaknesses are classified as “low potential.” The authors explain that companies use this segregation as a shortcut to gauge which employees to invest in. The authors reason that high-potential employees, who make up about 15% of employees, will give the highest returns, so they should be rewarded with more opportunities such as training, promotions, and pay increases compared to their low-potential peers. 

3. Employees Perform Better from Corrective Feedback

People in leadership and people management traditionally believe that working on weaknesses leads to excellence. This means that they focus on giving team members corrective feedback to help them improve their performance. However, in this misconception, the authors contend that negative, corrective feedback puts people on the defensive by activating their fight-or-flight response, which inhibits learning. While research suggests that negative feedback is 40 times more effective than giving no feedback at all, the authors say that delivering positive attention is much more powerful.

4. People Want a Work-Life Balance

Another pervasive lie at work is that people should strive to attain work-life balance—to toil enough so that we can have the money to support the people and the activities we love, but not too much that we burn out. Buckingham and Goodall argue that this mindset is flawed because it implies that work drains our energy and is therefore bad, while life outside of work replenishes our energy and is therefore good

5. Strong Leaders Follow a Leadership Formula

The last lie that the authors address is that strong leaders possess a common set of attributes, including being inspirational, strategic, and decisive. Employees who’ve shown that they have these attributes and have demonstrated well-roundedness and high potential are typically put on the fast track to leadership roles. However, the authors say that some of the greatest leaders actually lack some of the textbook leadership and people management traits—for example, Apple’s Steve Jobs was driven, innovative, and focused, but he was also known to be impatient, petulant, and controlling. On top of that, they write that no two leaders lead the same way.

5 Myths About Leadership and People Management

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Here's what you'll find in our full Nine Lies About Work summary:

  • The nine organizational lies and what leaders can do to address them
  • Why free lunches and breakroom pool tables don't matter
  • Why you should stop seeking a work-life balance

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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