The Unpopular View of Leadership

I have observed that one of the most overlooked but important qualities of great leadership is one’s courage and willingness to do what is unpopular.

Unarguably, one of the greatest leaders in history, at the time of his leadership, continually suffered vehement opposition and may have been one of the most unpopular people ever to serve in his position.

His name is Abraham Lincoln, consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest of all U.S. presidents.

Because Lincoln’s viewpoints were so different from that of many other government officials, he faced constant antagonism. Famously, as a congressman, he took a very unpopular stand against President James K. Polk regarding the Mexican War, saying the war was unjust.

The Great Abe lost elections for several different political offices before finally being elected president by one of the lowest popular margins in history. He was regularly ridiculed and viciously attacked by the press. Right before the 1864 election, a newspaper editor in La Crosse, Wis., actually suggested someone be Brutus and stab Lincoln. Lincoln was, of course, unpopular with Democrats, but for much of his administration, he was also unpopular with some members of his own party; even his Cabinet, composed of men he had beaten out for the Republican nomination, often confronted him.

Yet, because he was willing to do what was unpopular, taking deliberate stands on conscience, enduring malicious public abuse and the loss of friends, power and prestige, he became the man who “saved the Union” and emancipated slaves. Where would we be today if he had only done what was popular?

This willingness to go against the majority, to do what’s right and make the tough calls is not only an important leadership trait for a president, but also for a CEO, entrepreneur, team leader, community or neighborhood leader, or the leader of a family.

The April issue of SUCCESS is dedicated to that all-important expertise: leadership. We will offer you instruction for, insights on and examples of great leadership you can use to refine your own ability to lead—yourself and others.

To further refine your study and skill of leadership, be sure to read, underline, dog-ear, take notes from and implement some of the ideas in our cover story on Jim Collins, who shares his expertise on how good companies become great; our feature on leadership expert Robin Sharma, who will be hosting our next blog challenge at blog.SUCCESS.com; and our exclusive interview with William Wang, CEO of Vizio.

We call someone a leader when he or she is willing to do what others are not, even when—and maybe most especially when—the right thing to do might not be what’s popular.

Darren Hardy
SUCCESS Publisher and Editorial Director

How do you define leadership? What leadership quality do you admire the most? Share your thoughts with the community in the comments below…

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