“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
American President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)

Source: The White House Historical Association; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: The White House Historical Association; via Wikimedia Commons

There are many management myths, the worst ones being around the belief that companies are sufficiently alike that what works in one company can generally be applied to another, meaning that if we can lump together the experiences of a large number of companies, we can come up with general principles that will apply to most.

This mantra does suit some of the large global consulting companies, as it enables them to build a single “methodology de jour” that they can then use as the basis for multiple projects globally. They can then people these projects with less experienced consultants who are nonetheless well trained in the particular methodology being sold at the time, whether it is “Business process re-engineering” or “6-sigma” or some other must-have –ology at the time.

The reality is that as long as people are individually different and unique, so will be the companies that employ them, and successful management will remain individual and unique.

Nevertheless, here are some management myths that do need dispelling.

1. Managers make more money.

This is not necessarily true and definitely not true if one considers the hourly rate. In companies that understand the need for dual career paths, outstanding individual contributors can (and should) earn at least on par with management. When I was a sales manager, I always considered it to be a mark of success if the majority of my sales team earned more than me. The management level that can make significantly more money generally represents a tiny percentage of those in management roles.

Author: Shizhao; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Shizhao; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

2. Managers need to be smarter than their team members.

This could never have worked for me, as I always believed that I needed to try and attract people who were smarter than I was. Managers do need to be smart, but smart management involves using the best skills available in the team to get the best results.

3. There is never enough time.

There is always exactly the same amount of time available to everyone being 24 hours, 7 days per week. Yes, managers can tend to work longer hours, but the skill is to make sure that you allocate your time to the tasks that actually belong to you, and that you prioritise your use of the time available to the important rather than just the urgent.

Author: chris 論 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: chris 論 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

4. Empowerment is all about leaving people alone to manage themselves.

I read this all the time, particularly in relation to the new generation of young people coming into the workforce today, with seemingly strong expectations of autonomy. People need the ability to have some involvement in the areas that affect them, but I believe that everyone, no matter their level of seniority, needs some guidance. As a team leader it is important that you set guidelines for acceptable standards, and then review progress against these.

5. The best managers have MBAs.

There is no question that it doesn’t hurt to be well qualified academically these days, and an MBA is not a bad thing to have on your CV, but formal education is only one component of management skill and capability. I have always seen an MBA as being the equivalent of buying a fishing license as you now can get all the gear and know where to find the river, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will actually be able to catch fish successfully, which takes some practice and experience to do well (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011).

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT permission

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT permission

6. You can separate leadership and management.

This may be true from an academic viewpoint, and as a topic for a successful book, but when it comes to real life they should not be separated too readily. The skills needed may be somewhat different, but they are so interrelated as to be inseparable. Great leaders tend to be great managers and vice versa (see “Management or Leadership” posted March 7, 2011).

7. Who you know is more important than what you know.

As a manager it is important that you build a network that enables you and your team to have the linkages that are needed for success (see “Third rule of management” posted October 1, 2012), but to believe that this is more important than your track record is nonsensical.

8. Good managers delegate sparingly to ensure retaining quality.

Delegation is an integral part of management, and if you are not delegating effectively you are not managing effectively. Your role as a manger is to set the standards and objectives clearly and then let people get on and do the job, with your guidance. If you want your people to grow and develop you have to give them the chance to do so. I have long believed that “if you give people the opportunity to do great things, then they will do great things”.

9. Managers must treat everyone in their team the same.

Good managers treat everyone in their team differently based on their individual needs, level of competence and abilities. The need is to treat everyone with fairness and respect, remembering that a task that can be a great challenge for a skilled and experienced individual can be an insurmountable barrier to another.

10. Managers need to be tough all the time.

There is no question that managers need to be strong and have a sense of purpose and direction, and an ability to spread commitment and confidence in their team. Good managers are tough externally when it comes to fighting for resources needed for their team or when the team needs protection, but true toughness internally needs to be reserved for managing behaviour, performance and breeches of integrity or honesty, as most of the time a manager needs to be mostly supportive and mentoring.

As said by English novelist Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell (1903-1950) “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”



  1. Adriana says:

    Dear Mr. Hayman,

    From your experience, in which tiers of management are these myths more commonly spread? Are these myths or some of them already believed long enough to have already become a fulfilled prophecy? Or how long should they be believed in to become reality?

    I have personally lived the delusion described in George Orwell’s “1984” long enough to remember and to understand what believing a myth can do to our mentality, but fortunately not long enough to afflict my reason.

    Thank you,

    • leshayman says:

      Hi Adriana, most people in management positions know that these are myths. It’s mainly people who are not yet in management who believe these types of myths and that life is better, easier, richer etc in a management role. The reality is that it is just different to an individual contributor role. Les

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