One of the hardest areas you will ever have to face in leadership is the battle between popularity and respect. Both are instrumental in your quest to effectively lead, yet both are not equal. In an ideal world we would be able to find a balance where we are as popular as we are respected, but this holy grail of leadership is rarely achieved and a temporary state of circumstances.
The simple difference between popularity and respect is that popularity is a state while respect is a trait.
The state of popularity is a condition of others perception that elevates us in status. Identified as a state, popularity is temporary and easily achieved, all we have to do as leaders is make decisions that make the people around us happy. Because of this our popularity is dependant on the circumstances we find ourselves in. In leadership, if these circumstances benefit those we are leading we become popular until the circumstances do not assist those we are leading. If our goal is popularity we have a very simple job, make others happy by giving them what they need and watch them become dependant on us to make them feel good.
Understanding respect as a trait means that we also must understand that respect is something that distinguishes us from others and is not easily achieved. Respect, when earned, is something that is not a temporary identifier; instead it is something that creates legend. Respect is a trait that is not attached to circumstances because it has the ability to survive in good times as well as in hard times. Respect is not a simple job because in order to become respected you will have to make others question your decision making process. Unlike popularity, respect is earned through making tough decisions and facing times where people are looking to you not at you.
There are moments where you will be both popular and respected, but eventually a situation will arise where either your state or trait will take over and identify your leadership abilities. You will be face with the decision of making all the people happy to achieve popularity and some respect, or making some people happy while achieving everyone’s respect. You can be respected by the majority without everyone’s approval, but you cannot become popular without a majority decision. Your defining leadership moment will expose you to the masses and you will be categorized as a popular leader or a respected leader based on the action you take.
Weather you are the leader of your business or the leader of your household, your job is not about becoming buddies with those you are leading, rather your job is allowing them to function without you. This is not achieved by always making people smile; it is about making people learn to make the best decision for themselves as hard as that decision might be. Years down the road, when you retire or your kids are grown, you can then enjoy the popularity that respect has given to you.