Who believed in you?
I remember a college professor named Dr Fink. All the other professors I had would pat me on the back and give me a decent grade because they wanted me to like them. But not Dr Fink. The first assignment I had he returned with an "F" and told me I can do better. I had missed only one out of 66 questions.
I bet you have a Dr Fink in your life as well.
I thought he was being unfair and unreasonable so I tried to use my "gift of the gab" to talk my way out of it. But he insisted I had more to give - high potential. And he wasn't open to my eloquent justification for my performance.
He pushed me and pushed me to be my best. I finally got to the point where he was proud to give me an "A". I'll never forget him, as he is now my favourite professor, although at the time I did not have the same affection for him.
The moral of the story is popularity is temporary and respect is timeless.
The bigger issue is, are you willing to be a Dr Fink to someone else? Are you willing to push your employees beyond their comfort zone so that they can experience excellence? Being a great leader means sacrificing popularity and being liked for doing the right thing - bringing out the best in your employees - then you will be respected. In the long run, you will be remembered as the best leader they had.
But this does not give you the licence to be a jerk. Think about the professor or leader who brought out the best in you. If they were like Dr Fink, they held high standards for you, had a genuine interest in you realising all of your potential, would not tolerate lesser effort and treated you with firm decency.
A leader's role is to have a vision of what their employees are capable of and ignite something inside of them to achieve it.
Leaders need to give a positive shock of recognition to their employees and challenge them to reach down inside and call forth the effort that matches the vision of their potential.
Believing in your employees and ensuring they put forth the effort to achieve their fullest potential is one of the differences between leadership and management. While we remember this type of leader with fondness, we don't see more of them for the simple reason that it requires significant courage to believe in someone then take action to help the employees be their very best.
For some leaders, it is difficult to move past satisfying the inward desire to be liked by their employees and colleagues. Since workplace relationships are important and make up the majority of our working hours, it is natural to want to be liked.
But leadership is not a popularity contest. Rather leadership is about earning respect for the long run and this comes through helping your team members become the best they possibly can.
Look for the teachable moments and step in when you find them so you can move from popularity to respect.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center