Leaders: Are You Popular? Do You Care?

This article is from a new guest blogger on my site. His name is Bob Mason. See his contact information at the bottom of this post. Welcome Bob!

Abraham Lincoln is often quoted as saying, “you can’t please all the people all the time.” I don’t know if Lincoln actually said that, but it’s still a good reminder for leaders. Some leaders constantly strive to please their followers, but that need to be liked will damage their effectiveness as leaders. Leaders who strive to be popular will most likely find that, in order to maintain the popularity they crave, they will probably have to compromise their own values or give up authority. Eventually, they’ll be forced to face reality and do something unpopular, causing many of the followers the leader thought were friends to question decisions and even become openly hostile.

Some leaders are not concerned with pleasing anyone, and they don’t care how their followers feel about them. As Lincoln supposedly said in the opening quote, a leader isn’t going to please everyone, but being universally disliked isn’t going to lead to success either. A leader who just doesn’t care will find his followers also don’t care. When things get tough, he’ll lack support from the organization, making the job of leading that much more difficult.

So, what’s a leader to do? There’s an effective middle ground that is actually pretty easy to attain. Rather than worrying about popularity, strive for loyalty. It’s very common for leaders to expect loyalty but less common to give it to their followers. Loyalty is a two-way street, and there are several actions that will help a leader achieve this balance.

1. Always remember that your team is there is for the organization, not for you, and you must support them in order to support the organization.

2. Make sure your organization has a well defined and universally understood mission or purpose. All members of your team should understand how they are important to accomplishing that mission or purpose. They should also know that you appreciate their importance.

3. Communicate. Remember that communication is a two-way activity and that listening is more important that speaking. It is essential that all members of your team know their voices will always be heard and their ideas will be given serious consideration.

4. Be honest. Always. No matter what. It’s much better to say, “I don’t know” or “I just can’t discuss that right now” than to tell your team something you know is untrue. You only have to lie once to lose the trust of your team.

5. Know the people on your team as individuals and strive to meet their needs. That may seem to be at odds with what I said before, but this isn’t about popularity. A leader should have genuine concern for the needs of his or her team because those needs are what motivate them. When your followers know you are genuinely interested in them, they will respond. You cannot fake this! People detect insincerity quickly, and just like lying, it will ruin your credibility.

Leadership is not a popularity contest. Being open and honest with followers, while being genuinely interested in their needs, will make a leader more successful. Try it!

Bob Mason is a speaker, trainer, and author of “Bridging the Generations: A Leader’s Guide to the Complex Multi-Generational, 21st Century Workplace” and “Planning to Excel: Strategic Planning That Works.” After 30 years of leadership experience he founded RLM Planning and Leadership to transform leadership by developing great leaders. Bob works with organizations that want to excel by training managers to lead and creating great strategic plans to keep leaders focused. See what he can do for you at http://www.planleadexcel.com.

4 Responses to Leaders: Are You Popular? Do You Care?

  1. Deborah says:

    It’s a balancing act…leaders need to be personable and know their people, but not be so close that they can’t be objective when it’s time take corrective action or make a tough call.

  2. Great post Bob, agree with your points. I think looking to be popular can particularly be a trap for newer leaders.

    The tips I would add are to be FAIR and to be CONSISTENT. It doesn’t matter if you’re “mister nice guy” or a real “hard a*s” – as long as you are consistent in the way you deal with things, and deal fairly in the same way with everyone in the team.

    Look forward to more!

  3. Bob Mason says:


    Great comment. You point out what is probably one of the most difficult skills for a leader to learn.


    Your right, striving for popularity is a trap that catches too many leaders. Be careful about fair and consistent though. People are individuals and situations are different. What makes a leader fair is sticking to a particular set of values so everyone knows where they stand, then within those boundaries, treat each situation as the unique case it is.

    Thank you both for your comments.


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