Thursday, July 6, 2017

Popular Leaders?

Early in my career, I was accused of seeking policy changes merely in the effort to be popular with the employees. That was the argument to shunt the focus from any logical, ethical or financial shortcomings of the current policy. And it's unlikely that leaders can become more popular just with policy changes. They give us a temporary bump but, like bonuses and increased productivity/morale, it's pretty short-lived. "What have you done for me lately?" comes up again very soon after the policy change. The popularity level returns based on its innate organizational trust levels--based on perceived and actual levels of integrity, openness, approachability, credibility, competency, reliability.

President John F. Kennedy's net approval (% approved less % disapproved) rating barely took a hit from the Bay of Pigs catastrophe within 3 months of his presidency. In fact, it might be argued that his approval rating jumped over 80% because he acknowledged the error in judgment. Meanwhile, our current president's net approval rating hasn't been above 0 since the early days after inauguration. The only other post-WWII president to have such low ratings was Jerald Ford.

As leaders, we might be able to manipulate popularity but we can only substantially and enduringly improve it by improving trust. If distrust has gained a significant foothold, maybe a crisis (like 9/11) can create a bounce...if you handle it correctly...and you use it as a means of purging the reasons for distrust. Otherwise, after the crisis, the levels of distrust will return and unpopularity reigns. This is the lesson from heart disease patients who continue their detrimental lifestyle after the crisis has been dealt with.

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