Last week I expressed that as we continue exploring the topic of Courage in Leadership, the air-pressure that often opposes those who lead is important to identify. And, as previously discussed, one such pressure is the fear of what others will think, what they might say, or how they could act if we truly lead consistent with the mission, our conscience, and how the circumstances would require us to lead. I have referred to this generically as “the fear of man.”
The flip-side is essentially the same issue viewed from a corresponding and similarly perilous motivation: Being a leader who is too strongly impacted by the opinion of those they lead. I call this leader a “people-pleaser.” Such a person has their index finger in the air prior to every decision “testing the winds” of popular sentiment so that when they “make a decision” they are confident in advance that the decision will be acceptable to those impacted. Pleasing the people is their primary motivation.
One of the humorous phrases I have heard to describe this form of leadership is “poll-vaulting” (spelling intentional). What is meant by this description is that an opinion poll is first conducted on behalf of the decision-maker. When the results are tabulated, the leader then “vaults” in front of the people to announce the decision as if it was a considered leadership posture, knowing that the poll has indicated it will most likely be pleasing to the people. Such leaders seek to create the impression it was their own planned decision, when in truth it was a direction developed by seeking to ascertain in advance what the people would want. That’s why it is jokingly referred to as “poll-vaulting.” This analogy would be funny - if it was not as common-place in the world around us.
I am not advocating ignoring the sentiments of those who are led. A wise leader will always be considerate of the input from those being led – in fact, such input will be sought out. Even so, the difference is that the pleasing of the people is not the core motivation of a true leader. Rather, the objective is to do the right thing based on all the facts, circumstances, and inputs available. The outcome may or may not be initially pleasing to those being led.
Two sides of the same coin – fear of man or people pleasing. Neither requires courage.