Chris Lorence: The truth about leadership

In the first installment of his new column on leadership, ICBA’s Chris Lorence takes issue with some common misconceptions about what it is to be a leader—and offers ideas for how to create a more inclusive, effective culture.

There are countless books, courses and workshops dedicated to developing leadership skills. Some buy in to the notion that leaders are born, not made, while others believe it’s what you eat for breakfast or from what alma mater you hail. Ask anyone who leads a community bank, and they’re sure to tell you that the school of hard knocks, gut instinct and a little trial and error forge the toughest, most practical leaders.

All leaders need equal parts vision, confidence, morals, values and the ability to build and sustain trust. Individual leaders themselves need to be excellent communicators and often add a personal spin to the mix, contributing strategic thinking, thought leadership, passion and even humor. Regardless of the plethora of characteristics that make a particular leader successful, there are often general assumptions about leadership that are lamented as the “downsides” of being a leader. Much like the financial decision-making process at a community bank, assumptions about leadership need to be routinely examined and tested to determine if they are still valid or apply to the circumstances. Assumptions should not be considered obstacles. Instead, they present opportunities to grow beyond or even invalidate. Here are a few common ones.

Assumption #1: Everyone expects me to be perfect
People respect leaders who are authentic and relatable. Nobody is perfect, and teams don’t expect their leaders to be, either. Being open to the opportunity to learn while leading is a culture to which many successful organizations aspire. This openness to taking considered risk and even failing sets the stage for employees to be engaged and connected even more with the leader.

Assumption #2: It’s lonely at the top
True leadership is about lifting others up and bringing forward those who have talent and skill. Being the leader should mean you’re surrounded by the cream of the crop, giving you the ability to build trusting, mutually respectful relationships. If you’re surrounded by a talented, connected and engaged team, you shouldn’t feel lonely.

Assumption #3: Nobody understands the
pressure I’m under
There is certainly some truth to this statement. However, who says you can’t share what you’re experiencing? Leadership and the complexities that go with it are completely shareable learning opportunities. There is great value in opening a few doors and solving a few mysteries to help better shape and prepare future leaders.

Assumption #4: I need to watch what I say
While it’s true your words are powerful, it’s actually more about how you communicate. Sincere, honest, direct, timely and empathetic communication has the most meaningful impact on teams. The leader’s communication style sets the tone and standard for all others in the organization.

Assumption #5: Everyone assumes I know the right thing to do
There is definitely a great difference between vision and execution. Many leaders find success in setting the goal and outlining the parameters, then challenging their teams to create the momentum toward results. Others prefer the hands-on approach, adding their own talent and experience in a collaborative approach to mutually agreed-upon action items. One thing is certain: Leaders learn just as much as they teach.


Chris Lorence ( is group executive vice president, member engagement and strategy, with expertise in enterprise leadership.