From Jesus to Steve Jobs, all great leaders have both haters and disciples.
Real leaders create powerful movements. Their messages and missions force people to make a definitive decision between being a loyal follower or, well, the exact opposite.
Successful leaders don’t concern themselves with pleasing everyone around them to maintain the status quo because they reject the status quo. They don’t compromise their beliefs to fit into a grid.
Steve Jobs refused to compromise even the smallest detail of the Apple product, much like Jesus never altered his message to appeal to the ruling Romans or the orthodoxy of the Jewish elite. In fact, Jesus intended his message to cause divisions (Matthew 24:9).
When “haters” arise, it’s not a failure, but more often a confirmation that what you are doing is working.
And successful leaders acknowledge that you can't have one without the other.
Doing the Unpopular Thing
No doubt we all want a loyal following, one that becomes paying customers and brand evangelists. But how will you handle the naysayers?
Will you rethink your entire mission the minute you receive negative feedback? Or, will you lean in and embrace your small tribe, while making the necessary adjustments along the way?
It’s easy to let the negativity cause you to change your focus or beat you down entirely. But leading, above all, is about becoming a practitioner of what you preach.
Sometimes this means doing the unpopular thing. The key is to do it so well that people are forced to react in one way or another.
Do these 4 things to build a disciple-like following (and forget about the haters):
- Don’t Appeal to the Masses: Seek out a small but loyal following. Your tribe. It's tempting to cast a wide net, but in the end you’ll appeal to no one. Example: Sperry Top-sider shoes were loved by boating enthusiasts before catching on with a larger audience.
- Never Water Down Your Message: Great leaders are specific in their message and singular in their focus. Never water down your message to appeal to those that don’t care. Pick a niche and go all in. Be clear and focused, your tribe will follow. Example: Tom’s of Maine founder Tom Chappell was committed to all natural products and wouldn’t change to try and compete with major brands.
- Let the Haters Hate: Sometimes negative comments contain constructive criticism, but don't waste an excessive amount of time listening to the naysayers. Instead, tune into your audience and find ways to become more valuable to them. Example: Online reviews provide the best companies with honest feedback of what needs to change in later versions of their products.
- Become a Practitioner: Learn to lead by example. There is nothing worse than a hypocrite and, believe me, your audience will let you know. Make it a daily habit to do the very things you are advocating. Example: Even while dying, Jesus asked God to forgive the very Romans who were executing him. His life was the ultimate act of leading by example. For two thousand years, his followers have lived by his message of sacrifice, forgiveness, and tolerance.
As a teenager, I associated leadership with tyranny and hypocrisy. My teenage years helped me realize that every great leader would have haters, because for years, I was one. Knowing that I shouldn’t sweat every critic has made my own leadership markedly better. Next time you hear some grumbling from the peanut gallery or overly harsh criticism, put it in context. There might be some useful feedback hidden in there, but probably it is just a sign that real leadership is happening.