dr carl robinson
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The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

Popularity & Leadership: Should You Try For Both?

Popularity and leadership – at first glance it might seem as though they are two entirely separate ideas. You can’t be popular and a good leader. You can’t be a good leader and be popular. It just doesn’t work. Yet many people strive to be both popular and a great leader. They want to have it all; they want to be amazing at their jobs and they want everyone to like them.

At some point, for most people, it’s going to come down to a choice; do you want to be effective or do you want lots of friends in your workplace? You should know which one is your ultimate goal.

The problem is, this can get confused, particularly because of the multi-rater feedback process, usually called the 360 degree assessment. This assessment is meant to evaluate your leadership by looking at what the people you work with and – in particular – manage think of you. It’s meant to then help you with your own personal development, but it can become something of a popularity contest, and this is where the problem lies. Many feel that a good leader who also happens to have a tough way of working would score much lower than someone whose leadership skills aren’t up to scratch, but who is well liked.

This is a valid point of view. It’s all very well being the best friend to all in the workplace, but this is a big problem when you need to put any disciplinary measures in place, or make changes that people aren’t necessarily going to like. You don’t want to be hated, you don’t want to be a dictator, but being everyone’s friend, as nice and comfortable as it might make the workplace, is going to make your job a whole lot harder. It’s going to mean you don’t want to make decisions, and that you can’t do the things you need to do for fear of upsetting your friends. In this respect, though, you’re not a leader; you’re a follower and the people who are meant to be following you are dictating the terms of their work and their workplace. 

And when the CEO starts to wonder why productivity isn’t high and why people are complaining about everything, it’s you, the manager, where the buck is going to stop. And it’s you, the leader, who needs to prevent this from happening. You don’t prevent it by being overly harsh and standoffish, but neither can you make a good workplace and a successful business by being everyone’s friend.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be well liked. People are not going to do their best work for someone they distrust, or who they feel is overly critical – why should they? They’re only going to be criticised no matter what they do. So there must be a balance; you must be approachable but distant. Does it sound impossible? It’s not. And it’s how the best leaders work.

But back to the 360 degree assessment. How are you going to better utilise this to ensure you can strike the right balance? The key is in asking the right questions; the questions that will lead you to the answers you need to hear, rather than the ones that you want to hear. There can often be a big difference between the two.

The questions you should be asking include:

  • Are the goals being set effective? Are they clear?
  • Are people being held accountable for reaching those goals?
  • How well do you handle personal issues from your staff?
  • Are you able to offer guidance and support in an effective way?
  • Change: how do you drive it?
  • Are you respected (this is different to being liked)?
  • Are you trustworthy?

Remember: you don’t need to be liked to get results, but you do need to be a good leader.