5 Outdated Axioms That Can Be Hurting Your Leadership

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What you believe as a leader will ultimately determine who you become as a leader.

Unfortunately, the beliefs that many leaders cling to are not only outdated, but they can severely limit the growth potential of a leader who subscribes to these ideas.

Here are five of the most commonly held leadership beliefs that could potentially be hurting your leadership:

1. “Never let them see you sweat”

This belief emanated from a day when a leader was expected to project Superman-like perfection. The reality is that today, such projection of being unflappable tends to generate more suspicion than it does respect.

This is not to say that the leader can afford to project ongoing, unending fear and uncertainty. But leaders must be seen as authentic.

2. “It’s lonely at the top”

The image that comes to mind when one thinks of this classic leadership belief is that of the isolated leader. However, as Global Leadership Summit founder Bill Hybels has repeatedly pointed out, a leader need be only as lonely as she or he chooses to be.

Leaders must take it upon themselves to broaden and deepen their relational world.

3. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”

The idea was that leadership development was the result not of personal growth as much as it was a by-product of having secret access to the ‘who’s who’ of certain power brokers.

Such a concept today is laughably outdated.

True, leaders must always broaden their relational world, but this is to the benefit of others, not for self-advancement.

4. “Don’t work harder; work smarter”

Somewhere along the line, “smart work” came to be considered the opposite of hard work.

Today’s leaders know that working hard IS working smart.

5. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”

Yes, there was once a belief that, at a certain point of development, leaders would naturally hit a learning ceiling.

But look around today. You’ll quickly see that, no matter the age, effective leaders just keep learning.

Leaders have an obligation to those they lead to continue in their development. And one of the most important ways to ensure such growth is to strip away any outdated and outmoded leadership beliefs that could be placing a lid on your development.

So take a moment to consider whether any of these axioms are limiting your leadership.

Because what you believe will determine who you become.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Vice President- International, Global Leadership Network. Love Jesus, Nora, Adam & Robin, Amy, Dave, Willow & Olive and John, Fiona & Will. Lifelong learner.


  1. I can definitely relate to four of the five points. Experience, however, has taught me that it is lonely at the top. Yes, I do have good relationships with my colleagues, but the relationships with my direct reports have to be business only. I have tried building relationships with my direct reports by following all of the “best in practice ” engagement and leadership philosophies, especially the one’s concerning being supportive and providing developmental opportunities, as well as, giving ownership of work and inclusiveness in decision making. Yet, in two separate managerial roles I have learned that direct reports, for the most part, are loyal until I have to provide constructive feedback and hold them accountable for their blunders or mistakes. At that point that start to turn on me, forgetting all of the things I have done to show support and service to them.

  2. Lewis, you’ve identified an important caveat to the “lonely at the top” axiom. Few senior leaders find their primary relationship circles from among their direct reports. Usually, these have to come from peers from other organizations, and often from other fields. I know some leaders whose primary relational circles must be made with people from different cities entirely. The point is, the idea of the ‘lonely leader’, I still contend, is a matter of choice. Appreciate your comments.

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