How to be a popular leader


We’ve all met them – those incredible people who somehow manage to combine being both an effective and a popular leader. It is an impressive trick to pull off and something that most of us will try to emulate in our own organisations. 

So how do they do it? Commercial real estate investment expert and CEO of Fortem Capital Miguel Sánchez Navarro Madero has a lot of experience leading multi-disciplined teams across the world. 

“The first thing to emphasise is that for leaders, being popular and being effective are not mutually exclusive,” says Miguel. “It is more than possible to be both – and in fact, being effective as a leader is one of the quickest ways to be a popular one too. People love to be a part of a successful organisation.”

But Miguel explains that there are a lot of ways that we can both increase the effectiveness of our organisations, and our own popularity at the same time. Here’s how he does it.

1. How to be a popular leader – bring the right people on board with a compelling vision

“Most organisational issues boil down to one thing: effective recruitment,” says Miguel. “Get the right people into your company from the start and you will find the task of building a happy and effective business much simpler.

“The key to doing this is to have a bold, compelling vision for your business. This is essentially your pitch – the big idea that brings the best people flocking to join your company.”

Miguel explains why starting with a vision is so important. 

“When you have a strong vision for what you want to achieve, people will be very clear about what is expected of them, and how they can contribute to the company’s success. If they believe in this as passionately as you do, then their individual needs will be aligned with the needs of the business. 

“And that is the key to building an effective workforce, that works well together and that enjoys having leaders who are also working towards the same aims.”

2. Be clear and be consistent in what you say and do

“This really is the big one for me,” says Miguel. “So often, I’ve seen organisations where teams get mixed messages from their leaders. One part of the company is told one thing, while another hears something different. Management reacts to an issue harshly in one instance, and then ignores it in another. This kind of inconsistency is hugely damaging. 

“Whether it is in terms of messaging or in terms of action, consistency gives your team confidence. Again, much of this stems from having a clear vision as a leader and communicating what that means practically for your people. 

“When you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can then model the behaviours that will lead to the right kind of action. People look to what you do and what you say, and they follow your lead. But when those two things, words and actions, don’t match, you’ll quickly lose both effectiveness and popularity as a leader.”

To back this up, Miguel points to an interesting piece of research from accountability expert Mattson Newell, that suggests that 81% of those surveyed cited an inability to follow through on commitments as the biggest problem they experienced with their colleagues.

3. Own your mistakes 

Closely allied to this is another golden rule: that when you make a mistake as a leader, own it. 

Research from the Harvard Business Review suggests that a lack of accountability is a big issue for many employees. So, simply owning up to our mistakes and learning from them is another route to becoming a more effective leader – and a more popular one too.

Finally, Miguel also suggests that as leaders we also need to know what we’re good at as leaders, and stick to these core areas. 

“Doing this, rather than trying to win favour by trying to please everyone through micromanagement, is an effective strategy,” he says. “There are areas of the business that other people will simply be able to do better than you – so trust them, and let them do it. If you’ve brought the right people on board, they will know what they need to do, and will respect and like a leader who lets them get on with it.”

Going back to that earlier piece of research from Mattson Newell, it seems that not giving people this sense of worth and ownership directly impacts the effectiveness of a company

“When employees don’t feel that what they do matters to the company’s success, they disengage with their work. Employees who skirt their responsibilities, letting others pick up the slack, detract from what could be a high-performing company culture.” 

Ultimately, the bottom line for Miguel is that effective, popular leadership is all about confidence. 

“Be confident in your own abilities and in the business you’re trying to build,” he says. “Don’t keep looking for validation from others, but at the same time listen, and recognise that other people need some recognition for the contribution they’re making too. Both self-confidence and confidence in your team is the key to leading people well.”

To hear more of Miguel’s expert analysis on everything from leadership to investing in real estate, visit his website here.