Lie 9: Leadership is a Thing

This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the ninth lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by pre-ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.

“Leadership” has become a commodity – a $15 billion one in the US, at that – that we believe is necessary for becoming a leader. And although it’s definition varies company by company, it’s clear that leadership is made up of a list of pre-existing traits and characteristics. Things like “vision,” “strategic thinking,” “business acumen,” and “goal orientation” are all often deemed necessary for one to become a leader.

Companies believe that leadership is definable in advance, and independent of the person doing the leading. But when you look at the real world of actual leaders, the first thing that strikes you is how different they are from one another. No single leader at your – or any – organization will possess every single competency laid out before them. If you take all the leaders at your company, as a group they might possess every competency that is supposedly necessary for leadership – but individually, it’s certain that no single person possesses all of them. There is one thing that all the best leaders share, and you won't find it in a single competency model. Click To Tweet

More importantly, it doesn’t mean that the people who acquire the competencies they lack will outperform the leaders who don’t.

The only thing that the best leaders share is followers. The best leaders are able to give their people the confidence to follow them into the uncertainty of the future. They all have that in common. But the way in which they instill this confidence varies, leader by leader. Which means that “leadership” isn’t something we can define in isolation of the leader doing it.

There are leaders, and there are followers. And if you look at the leaders, each one will be leading in a slightly, but importantly different way.

What else do the best leaders share? Order Nine Lies about Work and join the Freethinking Leader Coalition today to find out.


  1. Pradeep Vaishnav April 4, 2019 at 5:38 AM - Reply

    Nine toys corporates keep on playing with it.
    Marcus, I am a retired HR professional and Gallup Certified Coach, ( from the first batch in India-2014). I saw all the episodes on lies and I do not have any words to express my response.
    I have just bought Audiobook and will hear it.
    Pradeep Vaishnav

  2. Chris Raines April 4, 2019 at 3:13 PM - Reply

    another great example of common sense from you sir. Amazing how “un” common these perspectives are! The business world will (have to) change eventually!

  3. Michelle Guezet April 6, 2019 at 9:09 PM - Reply

    Marcus, I agree there is no list of traits in common… and leaders are not well- rounded – like any human being by the way- I nevertheless believe that they display certain behaviors…. will buy your book : impatient to see if you agree!

  4. John Gerlach April 7, 2019 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    Just finished Nine Lies and this was my favorite chapter. Literally finished it with my eyes tearing up.

    Thank you both for a very well written book with information that I can act on.

    A couple years ago I started on the “What is leadership?” research quest and ended up at the main point of this chapter with a book by Haslam, Reicher, and Platow. 2011. The New Psychology of Leadership. Their point is the same as yours: “Effective leadership is always about how leaders and followers come to see each other as part of a common team or group.” The difference is that they don’t provide information about how to make that happen in the context of work – you did – thank you very much.

    You might check out Kay Redfield Jamison’s book “Exuberance” for predictable sources of weirdness.

    • Maria DeLazzari August 28, 2023 at 11:35 AM - Reply

      I agree and almost teared up the first time I read this. Every year, I go back and read it again. This chapter is probably THE MOST exceptional chapter of any book on leadership I have ever come across. The tie in to MLK is brilliant. I wish the Lie 9 chapter was available outside of the book form to hand out to my team leaders – everyone needs to read it..

  5. Roger Loeb April 15, 2019 at 9:03 AM - Reply

    Marcus, you’ve come a long way since “First, Break All The Rules,” and we are all grateful. You can now use research to explain why focusing on what you don’t do well is counterproductive (although “facts” seem to have gone out of style.) I had the great pleasure of meeting Doc Clifton somewhere around 1980, and he changed my entire prospective on selecting and leading people. I was certified to use the original “support services” interview and the people I subsequently hired all became serious contributors. After performing several hundred of those interviews I became subconsciously sensitive to the traits that were being identified and that became part of who I am and how I interact with others. Doc changed my life in a way that is impossible to describe. Your books continued that transformation, for which I am also grateful. “Nine Lies” takes that understanding to an entirely new level. I suspect that it is the best leadership “how-to” book ever written and destined to become a classic. Thank you.

Leave A Comment