Leaders Must Know the Difference Between Popularity and Trust

Misunderstanding this one principle can dramatically damage a leader’s performance.

Leaders Must Know the Difference Between Popularity and Trust

In leadership, it’s important to know the difference between 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 that 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 toward 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.

Ron Edmondson
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping church grow vocationally for over 10 years.