Friday, July 20, 2012

Sorry. But leadership is not a popularity contest.

My partner and I were chatting with the President of a large advertising agency earlier this week.  This individual was bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t ‘get to the big stuff’ because his was too busy with the day-to-day.  That sort of comment started me on the ‘Why of the Why’ sequence of questions.

Quick digression, I stole the ‘Why of the Why” information and insight gathering technique (keep asking “why’ and you will find that you get to a point that is a clear and logical jumping off point) from one of my favourite creative directors Joe.  Joe is not scared to ask the difficult questions that will lead to work that makes a difference.  He displays some great leadership traits: passionate, holds people to account and, perhaps most importantly, he is decisive.

Back to our conversation with the President.  It soon became clear that the real issue was that he could not deal with the fact that he would have to make some difficult decisions.  Decisions that would be unpopular and would have a human impact.  The ironic thing is that by trying to maintain his short-term popularity he was undermining his long-term credibility as a leader.

At the end of the day, when you accept the mantle of leadership (at work, as a volunteer, at school, or on a team, etc.) you must also accept the fact that you will have to make some decisions that will be unpopular.   As they say ‘it is lonely at the top’.

Creating a culture of decisiveness, from the President down, is essential to team, task and individual fulfillment.  And, for the leaders, the periods of unpopularity will be shorter in duration for all concerned.

Joe is also not always the most popular creative director, but he has done some great work.  And, the thing that I love most, is that the best people want to work on projects that he leads.  No surprises there.

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