Great Leadership Is Not a Popularity Contest

great leadership is not a popularity contestMany leaders love to be liked, so much so that they often make the big mistake of basing management decisions around what will be “popular” instead of what is truly right. Maybe they’re not holding employees accountable or, worse, playing favorites or giving preferential treatment. Whatever the case, these types of managers are mediocre at best. True, it’s natural, even normal, to want to be liked. But as a leader, you’ve got to put company interests ahead of your wish to be liked. Do this, and you’ll eventually win something far more valuable and powerful than a popularity contest. You’ll earn respect.

Some of the greatest leaders of our time haven’t always been liked. But what ultimately makes them great, or truly respected, is their ability to engage and align their “followers” or employees to the goals of their organization or mission. This requires being fair and consistent with everyone, which is hard because it’s human nature to befriend people, i.e., coworkers, who you like. But employees can smell preferential treatment and “favorites” from a mile away. It messes with their self-esteem, morale, trust and motivation, ultimately destroying any sense of camaraderie or culture, which leaders so desperately need to implement strategies and achieve desired goals.

Super leaders also know how to make “tough calls” when the situation demands it. This can translate to firing a problem employee or, tougher, layoff teams of people because the business calls for it. The latest recession caused leaders to sometimes take drastic action to save their companies. You get the idea. Leaders might be not be “liked” when the tough calls are made — in fact, they may be downright detested. But if they are made for the right reasons, the health of the company can return to a position of greater strength or profitability.

Have you ever had what you’d call a “great” boss? Regardless of whether you liked this person, what likely drove you and others to work hard and perform well was that you respected your boss to the core. Respect develops over time and for good reasons. The boss who has respect is usually highly self-disciplined and clearly committed to the health of the company. This boss implements fundamental strategies to engage employees, create teamwork and get everyone on board with delivering predictable, profitable results. And last but not least, this person is a master at their own professional execution, always and critically leading by example.

Do you want to be popular or do you want to be respected?


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