No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Leadership Myths

Leadership-as-Imagined vs. Leadership-as-Done

Myths articulate worldviews, beliefs, and social questions within communities. They fulfill a fundamental human need to symbolically represent abstract concepts and offer a sense of collective unity. Myths simplify, classify, and order values, behaviors, and events, resolve apparent contradictions and offer a perception of control in a complex world. They can have a dark side in which they operate in legitimizing and manipulative capacities, often justifying existing power structures while being instrumentalized to control narratives or events.

Leadership myths are often perceived as relics of the past but they are surprisingly relevant to contemporary leadership theory and practice. While modern science aimed to debunk mythical ideas in favor of rational explanations, the field of leadership remains entrenched in these beliefs:

- The gendered myth persists, which portrays leadership as inherently masculine. This impacts how success is achieved and perpetuates gender stereotypes despite evidence suggesting leadership success isn't gender-specific.

- Another leadership myth is the myth of objectivity, which presupposes that leaders inherently lead, when in reality, leadership acceptance by those being led is important.

- The significance myth emphasizes that leaders alone create success; this overlooks the impact of external circumstances and everyday behaviors attributed solely to leadership activities.

- The myth of manageability asserts that leadership is entirely plannable, negating the contemporary reality of unpredictability and hindering leaders from acknowledging small but influential events affecting leadership success.

- Similarly, the ethics myth idealizes leadership's alignment with truth, goodness, and beauty, which overlooks the complex, reciprocal nature of professional leadership relationships.  

We need a deeper understanding of the dynamics inherent in leadership beyond these enduring beliefs. We can, for instance, distinguish between different types of leader functions, e.g.:

-      the representative;

-      the caring or pastoral type;

-      the creative or "forethinker" type;

-      the organizational or "arranger" type;

-      the technical or "for-doer" type;

-      temporary leadership roles.  

In distinguishing these types, we must not forget that we construct ideal types. Group leadership should be understood as a function that serves the group as a whole, rather than as a position of power or authority held by one individual leader. To understand leadership, we need to understand the tasks, legal titles, and methods of selecting leaders, as well as the tensions that can arise between leader and group or individual members. Leadership is a complex and dynamic process that involves a balance between the needs and goals of the group and the individual personalities and abilities of leader and group members.


Weiner & Deeg (2019)

Geiger (1928)