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Career Advice: True Leadership's Not Based On Popularity
by Ramon Greenwood

You will never become a truly effective manager and leader as long as you feel compelled to have everyone like you.

That's rock-solid career advice you can bank on.

Of course, your task as a leader is made easier, and more pleasant, if your associates like you. But your becoming an effective manager and leader over any period of time will not be based primarily on your popularity. Instead, it will depend on the respect followers have for you and their feeling they can trust you to do the right things at the right time.

Many people who want to be leaders do not understand these fundamental truths. Therefore, they misspend their energies scurrying here and there, agreeing with everyone, and being a fun-buddy to one and all. They make decisions to curry favor among their associates instead of for the good of the enterprise.

Leaders Can't Agree With Everyone

But it is not possible to exert effective leadership while agreeing with everyone. Leaders have to make decisions. They have to parcel out resources. Not everyone will get his or her way. Leaders have to exert discipline and provide rewards. There will always be winners and losers in this system.

Not everyone is going to like the leader. That's just common sense.

Deep down inside, most people want their leaders to be more than a good buddy. They want to be led by someone they can trust and respect for their courage, ability and fairness – a figure standing somewhat apart from them.

Being a leader is not an easy task. In fact, quite often it can be an unpleasant, if not painful, experience.

Most everyone would much rather go along with the crowd. Besides, it is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that all of the warmth radiating from popularity and even adoration provides the key to leadership.

Bill's Downfall

Take the real-life example of Bill R. Bill's parents were among the principal shareholders of a large manufacturing company. By virtue of this connection, the young man was included in the company's fast-track management development program. As he rotated from one assistant manager's position to another, he always tried to be liked by everyone. He clowned around with his subordinates, often agreeing with their criticism of the company and his boss. He required little of those who reported to him, other than that they like him.

Bill was a disaster in assignment after assignment. Finally, in an attempt to save his career, senior management put him in charge of a new manufacturing process. He and several associates were sent to a neighboring state to observe the new equipment in use.

Bill told a coworker: "I am going to make a success of this job. I am going to get off on the right foot. When they start showing us how to run that machine, I am going to make everyone of them like me. They will send a good report back to my boss."

When the report on Bill came back, he was given a failing grade by his coworkers and the host team. Their reports agreed. Bill had been too ready to agree with everything said. He had tried to be amusing at every turn. He had alienated his associates by playing up to the host and down to them. He had failed to lead his team.

Bill never got his career as a manager on track.

This is not to suggest that a leader has to act like the south end of a horse headed north. But there are common sense lessons on every hand that say leadership grounded principally on popularity won't get you very far.

It has been said that the man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd some of the time.

Ramon Greenwood may be contacted at

Ramon Greenwood, Senior Career Counselor, Common Sense At Work, is a former Senior Vice President of American Express. To subscriber to his f*ee semi-monthly newsletter and blog please go to


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