One of the most overlooked but important traits of a true and effective leader is having the courage to go against the grain and do things that are unpopular.
A great example is Abraham Lincoln, who faced great opposition during his leadership. And still, he is consistently ranked as one of the greatest presidents of the United States.
When Lincoln started building his legal and political career, he encountered as many setbacks as successes. But the failures and difficult times were key contributors to the wisdom, strength, resilience, and empathy that he nurtured within himself and then employed effectively.
For instance, in 1846, Lincoln was elected to the US House of Representatives by a large majority. During his first year in Washington, he devoted most of his attention to opposing James Polk, the Democratic president, regarding the Mexican-American War, asserting that the war was unjust. In March 1849, when his term in office ended and he returned to Illinois, he discovered that his political stock was lower than when he had left. His political party could not succeed in electing its candidate to the congressional seat that Lincoln was leaving, as a result, many of his supporters blamed him and his unpopular position on the Mexican-American War for the defeat.
For much of his administration, Abraham Lincoln was unpopular as a leader. He was routinely ridiculed and aggressively attacked by the press. Yet because he was willing to take the right and unpopular actions, endure public abuse, and experience isolation from friends, family, and colleagues, he was incredibly effective and eventually became the person who saved the Union and abolished slavery. If Lincoln would have followed the status quo, the country would have looked quite different today.
Leadership means you have to let go of the “normal”. Whether at work, at home or in the community, if you want to become an effective leader, you must be willing to do things that are unpopular but necessary.
As Bill Taylor writes, “The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action… even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”