Leadership is Not A Popularity Contest
By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. On Oct 7, 2020
We all want to be liked and have a lot of friends. Yet, when it comes to real leadership, the kind that moves organizations forward when faced with difficult challenges and obstacles, the desire to be popular and overly friendly can get in the way.
If you are a manager, supervisor or CEO, there are countless situations where you must make decisions that will make some people uncomfortable. In fact, if you are really doing your job, there are times when people are going to be downright angry with you. Of course, being social, relaxed, humorous and yes, friendly, are important aspects of being a good team player in the workplace. Yet, the problem arises when people in leadership positions at all levels of an organization confuse the workplace with the rest of their lives.
Consider the expression, “If you want to be liked, get a dog.” Sure, it’s a bit extreme, but there is something to that way of thinking. Consider how difficult it would be to assertively challenge or reprimand a colleague whom you consider a friend. Further, with conflicts that arise every day in our professional lives, a real leader must make tough decisions.
With that said, following are some tips for remaining focused on your responsibilities as a leader without getting caught up in a popularity contest:
- Don’t be afraid to make tough decisions. In fact, you should go out of your way to seek opportunities to make tough decisions so it’s clear to everyone in the organization that it is more important for you to be a leader than to be universally well liked. If budgets need to be cut, make a conscious decision to use productivity and effectiveness as the measuring stick instead of the personal relationships.
- Set a goal and work backward from there. If you want to meet a specific deadline on a certain project, for example, press employees to keep their eye on the ball until that goal is reached. Limit the water cooler banter while working on the project and when the job is done, reward employees with some time for celebration.
- Keep socializing to specific situations. These situations could include lunch or after work, or, in a COVID-19 world, virtual cocktail hours or remote pizza parties. Making the workplace into a prime social gathering place could encourage laid back attitudes and blur the lines of work and play. Inviting your employees to be social with you only at certain times sends a message that it’s okay to chat and be friendly with the boss, but once you get into your work area, it’s time to get down to business.
- Don’t hold back. When it comes time to review an employee, use that time to be honest and constructive in your criticism. To not do so is cheating the employee and the organization. You may have a longstanding relationship, but the employee needs to know that your ultimate concern is with his or her performance and the team’s success.
- Don’t try to be a stand-up comic. There is a fine line between being funny and being crude and obnoxious. Use caution when joking with employees. It is up to you as the leader to maintain a level of professionalism within the organization without being a stiff. Your employees will look to you to set the bar in terms of what is, and what is not, acceptable when it comes to humor in your workplace.
Simply put, if you are uncomfortable occasionally making your teammates in the workplace uncomfortable, rethink whether you really want to step up and lead.