If you need to be liked, and you have aspirations to be a leader, you’re going to find yourself in trouble pretty quickly. Virtually everything you do as a leader puts you into a potential conflict situation.
Seeking popularity will stunt your leadership growth, dull your decision-making, and feed your tendency to procrastinate. Popularity doesn’t matter… respect does. This is why you need to be psychologically comfortable with the concept of doing the hard things that may make you unpopular.
The leader’s mantra has to be, respect before popularity!
Think about all the ways that your popularity will be threatened in the day-to-day leadership arena.
1. Building Team Capability and Performance
You have to be able to challenge, coach and confront your people in order to build team capability and performance. Many leaders believe that keeping people “happy” is what drives discretionary effort, which is an easy rationalization to make you feel OK about avoiding any conflict.
But if you don’t challenge your team, it’ll grow weak. When people aren’t pushed or stretched, their performance will be mediocre, compared to what it could be. People can’t give their best if you don’t help them bring it out. Great team builders put respect before popularity.
Negotiation is, by definition, a conflict situation. If you can’t sit comfortably in this conflict, you can’t optimize the outcomes for your organization. You’ll make poor decisions. You won’t be able to listen well, which means you won’t be able to align your position with your counterpart’s position. You’ll simply make bad deals. Great negotiators put respect before popularity.
3. Creating a Culture of Robust Challenge
Many leadership teams are simply too polite, which is often a sign of a passive defensive culture. Whatever’s going on in their heads, they don’t put it on the table, and they don’t discuss it. They don’t debate and challenge other people’s ideas, which is an essential ingredient of getting the best out of your team.
If you can’t sit comfortably in conflict, you’ll subconsciously welcome the lack of challenge. You certainly won’t foster the constructive tension that’s so essential in a high-performing leadership team.
You’ll train your people to not contribute anything that’s controversial. What you’ll end up with, over time, is simply a team of yes-people. That doesn’t help anyone.
I used to encourage robust challenge and debate amongst my executives. If someone agreed with me too often, I’d pull them aside and say, “Look, you’ve got to bring something unique to the table. If you think the same as me, then at least one of us is redundant. And it’s probably not me.”
Leaders who build strong, constructive challenge in their cultures put respect before popularity.
4. Communicating with the workforce
Try speaking in front of a hostile crowd of a few hundred people at an operating site in the middle of nowhere. You can focus on your need to be liked (which you’re very unlikely to achieve) or on the audience.
You have to be confident and calm in an often hostile environment, knowing that you can deal with anything only comes your way. It’s not about being liked. It’s about getting the right messages through to your people. The best communicators put respect before popularity.
When you’re a leader, conflict lurks in virtually every situation. Putting respect before popularity is like rocket fuel for your personal leadership brand.