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Leadership & Popularity: Where’s the Balance?

Being a great leader is a tricky balance to strike. Doing the right thing, and doing the popular thing, is not always aligned. Some leaders, when attempting to define their role, too often end up embodying one of two extremes. They either A) choose an authoritarian leadership style focusing solely on results and performance, but fail to create a positive work environment, or B) become a leader who is considered a “friend” to his or her coworkers, failing to achieve necessary respect or not daring to rock the boat with unpopular decision-making.

Leadership behavior connected to likeability and popularity usually results in problems with productivity and decision-making. Acting to increase likeability vs. acting to increase success is sure to create problems in any organization. We all need leaders we can respect, more than leaders we like. We need leaders we can trust to take the necessary decisions, even if those choices are hard to come to.

But in today’s more people-oriented approach to leading, management styles that make leaders feel like “one of the team” are increasing in popularity. So what happens when leaders are too fixated on things that will make their coworkers like them, and are unwilling to make the hard calls? How do you become a great leader?

Trusted leaders

It seems the best leaders are not only trusted to make the right call – but do so with a balanced and modest style that makes their team feel supportive and apart of the decision, versus it being a top-down autocracy.

Popularity can be temporary, and changing, because it is built mostly on people’s emotions. Respect is earned and has more staying power. As leaders, establishing a relationship of trust should be a top priority.

Balanced leaders

Today — excellent leadership is a solid mix of traditional leadership skills and modern adjustments. Successful leaders can still make the right decisions, and also have the support of their team because they’re respected, trusted, and fair. They will do what is right no matter what. They will face the impossible and make it possible.

Modest leaders

Great leadership is often about the absence of ego, for the sake of the greater good. It’s not about what the leader does or doesn’t do; it’s about what he or she can inspire their team to do because they believe in the decisions, too.

Communicative leaders

One of the most common complaints of leadership is often that they make decisions in a funnel, without communicating the rationale or the factors impacting those choices. Good leaders make hard decisions, great leaders can explain to their team why those hard decisions were necessary in a way that creates solidarity and a united front.

We need to take into consideration that even if leadership is not a popularity contest, it is also about having people around us that are ready to take the risk by supporting our decisions, without striving for popularity. This means having people who trust you as a leader, and not because you are popular, but because they respect you.

In conclusion

The need for pointing out the direction, setting the strategy, and clearly communicating the plan to the organization is important, while simultaneously focusing on the human side of strategy and how to gain the support of the team. Being process-oriented, and knowing how to involve the right people at the right time is imperative, and fulfills most employees need to be included, contribute, and feel part of something bigger than themselves.

For more tips on how to build a better workforce, check out our Workforce Planning Guide.

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Author

Accounting Principals

We're Accounting Principals--a leader in finance and accounting staffing. In fact, since 2010, we've been part of Adecco Group, a Global 500 company and leader in staffing services around the world. But this isn't staffing as usual. We take quite a different approach than most staffing agencies. A people-focused approach. We believe in forming real relationships with both our clients and our candidates. We want to understand the needs on both sides.

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