In a recent lecture in my MBA course, a specific statement has been particularly interesting to me. The professor, who has been an accomplished executive for decades, proclaimed “If you want to be popular - maybe leadership is not for you”.
Of course, I understand the gist of this concept: As a leader you have to take decisions focusing on what is desirable for the organization. Sometimes, this will not necessarily lead to activities or changes that your team will like or consider being wise or correct.
In this sense, logically, the leader should not take major decisions based on the expected reaction of his workforce or on the consideration if someone will still invite him to having lunch with the team.
On the other side, there is another interesting aspect to popularity: To what degree will the team will support a popular leader, compared to a leader who is not as “liked”? Are leaders able to give their team an additional motivation by reaching them on an emotional level, besides their technical skills and rank? If a leader delegates a new task or project to his team or a team member, will they be more likely to take on an “annoying to-do” if they have a good relationship with the leader, on a personal level?
Thinking about this question and writing this text, I conclude I believe the answer is no. An excellent leader does not have to be popular, but respected and trusted.
From my experience in working with senior executives on a daily basis, leaders have to earn this respect by respecting their followers, giving them the capacity and the room to take an active role and to introduce their own ideas. A leader will be popular by doing so and by walking the talk.
Smart delegation of tasks and sharing opportunities for growth will make the leader more popular, even if not so on a personal level.
What is your experience with popular and unpopular leaders? Do you think popularity has an impact on followership?
Qais Felix El-Chami leads Morgan Philips Executive Search’s business in Industry and Logistics in Germany. He serves as a strategic partner for his clients and specializes on C-Suite, Director and VP level positions in complex matrix organizations in Supply Chain & Procurement, Manufacturing & Operations and the Logistics sector. After graduating in International Economics, Qais gained valuable experience in Business Consulting and his family business – before he found his passion in Executive Search Consulting. Qais has lived and worked in Germany, Spain and Mexico and is fluent in German, English and Spanish.