The most important things you need to learn often aren’t formally taught when you’re young. For example, many lament that teenagers aren’t educated on how to manage money.

It’s a fair criticism. Evidence suggests a severe lack of knowledge around basic personal finance; a 2018 survey found that less than 50 percent of respondents could correctly define what interest is, the concept of bankruptcy, or how inflation works.

In the absence of knowledge, myths creep in. One example that gets attention this time of year is the “benefit” of receiving a tax refund. This is a myth. In almost all cases, receiving a substantial refund isn’t a good thing. After all, you lent the government money—interest-free— throughout the year. 

Another myth: All college degrees are a sound financial decision. Data suggests that some people spend way too much money on a degree that won’t land them a job with a salary sufficient enough to make the investment worthwhile. It’s part of the reason why there’s a student debt crisis.

Like personal finance, management isn’t something most people study formally—although HBS Online offers a Management Essentials course. Most people learn management “on the job,” and in fits and starts. As with personal finance, myths often develop for those who’ve never received management training. Below are three myths about management I’ve frequently heard throughout my career.

Myths about Management

Myth 1: Management and Leadership are the Same Things


It’s possible to be a great manager and not a great leader, or vice versa. Rarely, individuals are both at the same time. While a bit of an oversimplification, this is why organizations often have a CEO and a president. The former is the visionary who inspires the company, while the latter is the doer who measures results.

It’s important to know which role you play and the strengths you bring to it. Many have experienced working for a manager with little leadership ability. The minute a process needs to be changed, either because of internal or external forces, the manager who lacks leadership ability often struggles to “rally the troops” to a new normal. Similarly, a great leader who has little managerial skills can pull a team in several directions with too much vision, creating a lot of noise but little in the way of results. It’s critical that great managers either learn leadership skills or align themselves with good leaders.

Related: Leadership vs. Management: What’s the Difference?

Myth 2: Managers Can Make People Do Things


This myth is one of my favorites and something I learned about early in my career. Right out of college, I was a newly minted Air Force officer. When I pinned on my second lieutenant bars, I thought that because I outranked somebody, they “had” to do what I told them. Often, new managers think the same thing.

The title “manager” implies exactly this. The Oxford Dictionary defines “manage” as to “be in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking).” Surely that means, as a manager, you command and people jump? If only it were that simple. No matter the title, you don’t inspire people by pointing at something and saying, “Do that!” Rather, you bring them along by giving them a reason to “do that.”

What sort of reason? Contrary to what some may think, it doesn’t need to be based on some “save the world” objective, although it could be. It just needs to make sense; it needs to tie the work to some end objective. Nobody wants to feel like a cog in a machine. At an absolute minimum, they want to feel like a cog that the machine depends on, that does work the machine needs.

Related: 7 Skills You Need to Effectively Manage Teams

Myth 3: Good Managers Can Manage Anything


This myth may be a bit surprising. You’ve likely known or read about someone who seems to have the golden touch when it comes to management. No matter what they do, their teams seem to excel.

The reason for such success is often misunderstood. Usually, it’s attributed to the manager’s ability to organize people, institute processes, and adapt as new information becomes available. There’s little doubt that these skills matter. But the other, less discussed aspect of a successful manager’s behavior is this: They hire and nurture the right people and get rid of those who don’t perform.

No amount of guiding, organizing, or process improvement is going to make a team with the wrong people in the wrong roles perform well. Good managers know this and do the hard work of getting the people part right.

Management Essentials - Get the job done. Learn more.

Busting Management Myths

For all our talk about the importance of management, it seems to be one of the most mysterious business disciplines. As with any realm shrouded in mystery, myths develop to help individuals understand what they know little about. But beware of believing them. While some myths point to the truth, many don’t. The best anecdote for knowing which myths are helpful shorthand and which are falsehoods? Education.

Are you interested in developing managerial skills? Explore our eight-week online Management Essentials course, and discover how you can gain the tools and strategies to excel in decision-making, implementation, organizational learning, and change management.

Patrick Mullane

About the Author

Patrick Mullane is the Executive Director of Harvard Business School Online and is responsible for managing HBS Online’s growth and long-term success. A military veteran and alumnus of Harvard Business School, Patrick is passionate about finding ways to use technology to enhance the mission of the School—to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.