Popularity, to some extent, is often what brings people into positions of leadership. Whether it is to the position of CEO, president of a country, student government, the garden club, or the Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin, popularity plays some role in people being placed in positions of leadership. You advance at work by being popular with your bosses, in politics by having more votes than anyone else, and at school by having the most friends. You even gain “leadership of a family” by being popular with your girlfriend to the point of her agreeing to marriage. Then it comes time to lead and the followers (employees or voters or teammates or. . .) want their absolute way in everything. I’m no different in times of being subordinate to people.
Leading based primarily upon popularity will eventually end in the failure of the leader. Leadership is anything but a popularity contest. Leadership 101 is that “you can’t please everyone, every time.” It is my experience that in leadership, though, this doesn’t go nearly far enough. In reality, with very few exceptions, it should be “you WILL disappoint someone every time.” Just as there are multiple sides to every story, there are also going to be multiple opinions of every leadership decision. True leadership is making what you are confident is the right call and moving forward to execute this decision. Nothing more, nothing less.
24 Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:24-25
In reading 1 Samuel 15 this week, this principle was again brought to my attention. Saul backed down in the midst of pressure from those he was supposed to be leading. He knew the right call. . . complete and total obedience to God, on God’s terms, in God’s prescribed manner. However, Saul caved to their pressure to act in a way that they (the followers) deemed as correct.
Problem was Saul knew the right call, became impatient and fearful, and made the “popular” decision, not the bold (and correct) one. Fact is that his people would have been better suited had Saul not listened to them. However, Saul bowed to the idol of popularity, and in so doing, hurt both himself and the people for whom he sought their popular approval more than leading in the way he knew he should lead.
I find it revealing that even when Saul was confronted with his error and completely stripped of his kingdom, he was STILL primarily worried about his popularity in front of the people!
30 Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” – 1 Samuel 15:30
Bowing to popularity consumed Saul. It eventually became his personal destruction and the calamity of his kingdom, Israel.
Personally, I HATE this about leadership. I love being liked by everyone. As a result, I have had to grow up in this over the years. I still have so much further to grow in this area. However, I have become a little more comfortable with saying no and doing what I feel to be the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing, and many times, not the popular thing.
Pray for your leadership. Pray that they have the character and strength to overcome the seduction of popularity.