How to be Popular with Unpopular Decisions

Unpopular Decisions

Need to announce the next pay-cut? Have to tell everyone to work on weekends? Unpopular decisions coming up?

Challenge of being a leader – you need to make unpopular decisions! I have come across several people out at sea, who pathetically fail to pull off an unpopular decision. The ship’s moral may break down, and it can even lead to Mutiny.

I am sure you come across such people in every profession. However, unpopular decisions delivered in proper style and finesse can make your subordinates follow and not resent it. It can even enhance your position as a leader.

Here are a few things to consider before putting forth unpopular decisions.

Dos and Donts of Unpopular decisions:

1 . DO NOT be Impulsive

Let us say your office has a rule of wearing Black shoe to work. You find one person wearing a brown shoe one day, and you get so outraged that from the next day you want everyone to show their shoes to the receptionist before they enter the office.

It may sound logical to you when you are really angry about the issue, but once you cool down, you would see through its impracticality.

Laying down a rule which you do not mean, just being impulsive is a misuse of authority. It is not seen as good Leadership. Avoid that.

DO think about it

Take time to think about the decision you are about to bestow upon others. Think about it over a cup of coffee. If possible discuss with a colleague or a senior before going ahead.


  1. DO NOT Thrust upon people unpopular decisions before you are in charge

When you are not in charge (perhaps you know that you are going to be soon) – do not try to establish any such decision.

You may be looked upon with unnecessarily authoritative. Worst case – you may just be shunned down.

DO Lookout for your people before you lay the decision out to them.

As a leader in charge, make sure your people know that you take the fall for them. You are bearing responsibility for their mistakes and standing by them under every conceivable circumstance. Be a true leader, and your unpopular decisions will make you just as popular.

  1. DO NOT jump into something uncomfortable unless required

Surprisingly, many many people in several industries put their foot down just to establish their territory – to make sure everyone knows who is in charge!

There are many other ways to do that, and you do not have to subject people to misery to show them you are the Boss. Again – avoid misuse of power.

DO ask for alternatives

Try to find out alternatives to taking that decision if you can. If possible talk to seniors who have more experience in the matter.

For example, if you need to push your workers to work on Christmas eve to pull off a project before the deadline, at least ask your seniors if there is any way to circumvent that. Often the deadlines are not as deadly as they sound to you.

If it is over something that needs your people to opine about, do ask for their suggestions as well.

  1. DO NOT avoid responsibility

Avoid saying – I am helpless because “my boss said”, unless that really is the only explanation.

In every industry, usually your subordinates or your seniors know clearly what your responsibilities are. A leader who tells his people that he had to it because his Boss said, discourages his people. If you take responsibility, your people might not like it, but they will still respect you for it.

DO be Authoritative

Unpopular decisions

This part is very important. Once the suggestion phase is gone, you have taken a call. Announce your decision now!!

Be decisive!! Use pronouns, like “I”

Typically on a ship when I have to change something which has been going on for a while, at times the first phase of my conversation with my crew is a suggestion phase. In this phase, people pool in ideas and I am just as much of a listener as I am a talker.

After the group discussion is over, I take the decision.

I often address my ship’s crew saying “This is what we are going to do….” or “This is how I want it done”.

Using such phrases humbly reminds everyone who’s in charge and at the same time pushes them to follow. The decisiveness is important.

Cardinal mistake: Do not start asking for suggestions AFTER the decision is taken. Once laid down, it is the RULE now.

  1. DO NOT be apologetic about it ever

Several leaders are too scared to cause the minute resentment in his staff. They lay down a rule and then apologise about it. That demotivates the staff, because even if they were thinking of following your orders blindly, now they think of the alternative and feel even more depressed.

You can, however, put across a subtle “I’m sorry but….” before a decision which was not in your hands. Such as: “I am sorry but the management has decided to cut down on the Travel allowances”

DO take the fall with the team

The team should not feel that rules are different for you just because you are the privileged class. If there is a rule, it must be applicable to you too. If everyone is working weekends, try to be there too.

  1. DO NOT put forth less at first and then increase demands

When making unpopular decisions, put forth the rule or the information strictly and to its full extent.

That means if you are laying down new ground rules, you should not say you need “A” and “B” and then next day tell them that “C” is also required. Do not break bad news in parts.

DO execute less if possible

If possible to not take it to the fullest extent. Keep some of it under your sleeve, and relax your people at the later stages.

Quite often I declare that the Sunday on board will be a fully working day. My staff follows accordingly. However, later in the day if the job progresses as expected, I give them a few hours off after lunch. That suddenly makes an unpopular decision very popular!!

Unpopular decisions

  1. Be confident to face questions

At times a resentful person will try to question your decision. Such feelings can propagate very quickly. Be extremely confident about the reason behind taking such a call.

Such questions should be addressed at the very onset to make the reason clear to everyone.

If you divert the question (By fumbling or saying – “I think that’s the best way”, or “Sorry for your guys”) people will assume that you are not confident and come up with more questions. Do enough homework so that you can reply to every possible question.

If such resentment leads to insubordination that should be dealt with sternly and with full control.


Your unpopular decisions can make you a great leader if you follow the steps above. It can actually help you grow in the eyes of your juniors. Always be in full control of your crew.


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