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Leadership and Popularity

22 March 2011

Imbalance between expectation and satisfaction is what causes people to rise up against their leaders. - by John Bittleston of Terrific Mentors

Managing expectation is key to leadership. From Churchill’s WWII rallying call of “blood, tears, toil and sweat” to the cheers of Singapore citizens when told that their city would be hell for a few years while the MRT was being built, those successfully in charge always keep expectations under control so that the eventual outcome will be satisfying. In the last fifty years three developments have altered the balance between expectation and satisfaction.

First, Authority worldwide was challenged by the commonsense realisation that it was seldom as competent as it claimed to be. Where Authority’s dictates had been largely accepted as true, they became suspect.

Certainty was replaced by doubt. Faith became touching not dogmatic.

Second, the quality of life improved significantly and the pace of improvement increased exponentially. Healthcare is a good example; average income is another.

However, improvement in life quality has been uneven with a small proportion of the world’s population becoming increasingly rich and a large majority remaining destitute. Life is enough of a gamble without it becoming a total lottery, especially when played with other people’s money. Greed is inherent in all of us but it can be controlled or encouraged. Such has been the encouragement that large-scale theft is now accepted as legal and smart, a far cry even from the erratic ethical standards of a century ago.

Third, communication became accessible, fast and dangerous. Every communications medium potentially contributes to transparency, the basis of all successful relationships. At the same time all media can be used for calumnies, detractions and lies. Information is good; disinformation is not.

Every major organisation, every politician, every celebrity now has a regular commentary on what the Social Media are saying about them and their products and services. This is good when used to correct mistakes, discover what consumers want and when it helps to shine a light on the misdemeanors of the world. It is bad when it creates Rolling Referenda, enticing those with power to change their opinions at the drop of a popularity point.

Leading an organisation is about maintaining a balance between being a dictator and being driven by consensus views. Dictators usually become corrupt; committee decisions are usually unsustainable compromises. There has to be a Middle Way in which the voices and ideas of all are heard and respected but the final decision is made by the person appointed to do so. There also has to be a way to unseat the boss when his decisions become consistently poor.

The world’s business model is deeply flawed for today’s circumstances.

However, the Social Media are here to stay. Instant reaction to policies, decisions, suggestions, even sartorial changes will be with us for a long time. Leaders have to use power and assert control in new ways, since the old ways have been overtaken by technology.

The media have shown how to measure reaction; new leaders must learn to forecast it, handle it and hang on to their medium-term and long-term plans when short-term popular decisions are an appealing escape from the right course of action. Such perseverance requires confidence born of sound information and a good understanding of the forces at work in their followers.

The Intelligence Quotient and the Emotional Quotient are no longer enough; they need the Handling Quotient and the Creativity Quotient to make them effective.

We handle others well only when we can handle ourselves well first.

Terrific Mentors John Bittleston, Eliza Quek, Denise Pang help people with their careers, businesses and personal lives at

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