Entrepreneurs, leadership is not a popularity contest

— -- Hi, Gladys, I have a medium-size construction company that has grown significantly over the past few years. I want to focus on bringing in more business, which means that I will need to put someone in position to lead the company from within. I would prefer to promote someone who has been with me for a while rather than hire from the outside. I have my eye on one guy who is very popular with the employees, and I also think he feels that he is entitled to a promotion. Can you make a recommendation on what else I should look for in a person to take a lead position in my company? — M.W.

There are many aspects to leadership, but popularity is not one of them. Think of many of the popular people you know. You will see that many can be the life of the party but not necessarily the leader of the pack.

Leadership is about getting results and meeting goals and objectives. And most important, it's recognizing which direction to go toward for the best results.

First, take a look at the difference in popularity and leadership in this example that I encountered.

While at a family outing recently I had an interesting conversation with a 14-year-old niece. After many months she was still seething from what she claimed was an unfair defeat of her best friend — we'll call her "Kim" — who was a candidate for class president. She was disappointed that her best friend had lost to another student.

She went on to tell me how shocked both she and Kim were. She said, "I can't understand it; Kim is the most popular girl in the entire school. Everyone likes her, and she is always invited to all the parties. Someone must have rigged the ballot box."

I told my niece that being elected class president was a big responsibility that required leadership. I told her that there are many popular people on party lists because they are fun to be with not because they are good leaders.

I asked a series of questions: What kind of grades did Kim get? What had she done during the campaign to show her leadership abilities? Did she engage others to help her get elected? Is she well-spoken and a good listener?

It turns out that Kim is a D student who often forgets to complete her homework assignments. She didn't think that it was necessary to organize and work with the people who offered to help her win the election, and that included my niece. She prefers talking to listening. And she, like my niece, believed that her popularity was enough.

The president-elect is a straight-A student, works well with others, and she made her campaign committee feel like they were part of the process. She was a good speaker and listened well. In addition she managed to convince the voters that her leadership would benefit both the students and the school.

According to my niece, the elected candidate was well liked but not popular.

It seems to me that the young voters recognized the winning candidate having leadership capabilities.

I use this example to imply that leadership is important at all levels and aspects in life. As you think about who might be a good fit to place at the head of your company, think about some of the following:

•A good leader, no matter what the situation or age, puts time and effort into self-improvement. They take pride in all areas of their life. And, they set standards by doing and not just delegating.

•Leaders are able to motivate people to work together in order to achieve results. They encourage teamwork in order to meet objectives and goals.

•Leaders are good communicators. They speak well and listen intently, and they know the difference between the two and how to use both effectively.

•Leaders set examples and don't shy away from problems. They help bring out the best in their employees and give them a sense of self-worth. As Catherine the Great once said, "Good leaders praise loudly and blame softly."

Stepping into a leadership role is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, whether you are running for class president, supervisor of a construction company or CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds, founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh, is a private coach/consultant in business development and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, published by Viking. See an index of Edmunds' columns. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at gladys@gladysedmunds.com.