The Difference in Popularity and Trust in Leading People

It's important to know...

In leadership, its important to know the difference in popularity and trust.

I’ve seen leaders – whether pastors, politicians or in business – try to take people places, even worthy places, and believe people would follow because they are popular as a leader.

Yet people didn’t follow – because the leader hadn’t developed enough trust in the people he or she was trying to lead.

Misunderstanding this one principle can dramatically damage a leader’s performance. (This is especially true for newer leaders.)

Many leaders assume they are trusted because they are popular, but many times this is not the case. The leader may be very popular – people genuinely like the person – but this doesn’t always translate into trust. People follow closest those they trust the most.

Popularity has some importance in leadership. It is easier to follow a leader we like personally. But, popularity may be seasonal and temporary. Popularity can be altered by current successes or disappointments. Popularity can cause followers to cheer or jeer, because whether it is good or bad, popularity is mostly built on people’s emotions.

Trust is what is needed for the biggest moments in leadership. Major changes involve trust. Times of uncertainty need established trust in leadership. Long-term success requires trust.

And, trust must be earned. Trust develops with time and experience. Trust invokes a deeper level of loyalty and commitment which helps people weather the storms of life together. Trust develops roots in a relationship which grow far deeper than popularity ever could.

Leader, know the difference between popularity and trust and don’t confuse the two.

Here is something else to know. Popularity often disguises itself as trust when people appear to be agreeing with you. And it may fool you into thinking you can do anything, because you are, after all, popular. But, if you are not careful, you will cross a line of people’s level of trust and see a backlash towards your leadership.

It will make you a more effective leader – especially when it comes to leading change – when you can begin to discern when you are simply popular and when you are truly trusted.

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7 thoughts on “The Difference in Popularity and Trust in Leading People

  1. Great post, Ron. As someone who's still "young" in leadership, this takes some time to learn. Thinking that leading requires me to be "popular" will make me into a people-pleaser which will ultimately not bring trust, which is the true building block for influence. It's easy to see leaders who are charismatic with a lot of followers and think they are related, but as you mentioned, the charisma only lasts for a season. And then you find out who are really great leaders and who was just "popular".