Love in Leadership

NCO Comforts a Grief Stricken Soldier

I want to take a moment to talk about an often overlooked ingredient in leadership.  As the title of this section indicates that ingredient is Love.  Love is a choice you make.  It is admittedly the case that some people make themselves easier for you to love than others.  And it is, in fact, important to note that Hate is not the opposite of Love.  The opposite of love is Apathy.

You must care about your people to lead them effectively.  You must care about your mission for you to effectively pursue it.  You must care about your organization for you to submit yourself to its success.

Love does not mean being soft; nor does it mean being hard.  It means caring to a degree that you are willing to be the bad guy when being the bad guy is the right thing to be for the good of the people you love.

Good parents do not always bow to their children’s wants.  But good parents do empathize with their children.  Good parents do their best to ensure their children have their needs met.  Many times this is done against the wishes of the child and in the face of an emotionally exclaimed “I hate you!”.

This is love.

In like kind, a good leader will look out for the people under his charge.  Sometimes this means punishing poor performance or simply not rewarding it.  It means setting clear expectations and standards; and, expecting people to meet or exceed those standards.  A good leader does this, not because he’s being difficult, but because he is making the underlying statement, “I know you are capable of this.  Even if you don’t have faith in yourself; I have faith in you.”

Of course, there is a corresponding responsibility of a good leader, like a good parent, to provide for the needs of his team.  That last statement, truly, is part of the key: his team.  I good leader will always identify himself as a part of his team; not as something separate from it.

A good leader will rejoice in his team’s successes; feel the heartache associated with it’s failures.  And, while it’s true there must be a degree of separation from the team to maintain objectivity, it is the separation a parent has from his children not as peers but as a member of a family with his own distinct role and duty to fulfill.

This concept of remaining part of the team goes still deeper.  It is the fundamental concept of all leadership and that is: Those we lead are people and we are all a part of the human family.

I call to mind John Donne’s Meditation 17, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I have found, if you truly have a love for a person, anyone, you can overcome any cultural barrier, any difference in value systems, and any prejudice in time.  When you love someone, you understand them.  And this is an understanding of the person from that person’s perspective not your own.  Love grants empathy as it’s gift to the giver and this is the heart of leadership.

It is an idea that has been in the conscience of mankind since before the dawn of written histories.  It has been spoken by the Greek philosophers and every civil religion.  It is the idea summed up the “Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Of all of the forms of power, referent power, the power that comes from respect and admiration, is the only lasting source of power. The power derived from ones expertise is limited in its scope.  More importantly,  a good leader will seek to pass this knowledge to his subordinates.  The consequence of this, while not necessarily the intent, will be an increase in power to all of his domain.

Legitimate power will only remain relevant in relative calm and orderly situations with a culture respecting the hierarchy of your office.  This is conferred and can therefore be removed; sometimes by force if it is not relinquished willingly.

Coercive power, is a paradox and a poison.  The paradox of coercive power is in order for a coercive leader to maintain his relative strength he must keep his subordinates week lest they cease to subordinate. Consequently, coercive power relies upon keeping the leader weak.

Power derived from rewards, reward power, sells a leader’s power to his subordinates with every transaction.  The inevitable end of this is the leader will only remain in power so long as no challenger arises to capable of buying his position with greater rewards.

Referent power is the only lasting source of power. It must be gained through trust, mutual respect and these things are the byproduct of genuine love.

PS –  I use masculine pronouns while writing because in grade-school I was taught, in absence of a defined gender default to the masculine.  Writing “his or hers” and “he or she” at every junction makes for complicated thought, confusing communication and poor prose.  There is no reason to choose one over the other other than habit, self-identification (I am male), and consistency (alternating male-female – or female-male if you prefer – is a lot to get track of and can be equally confusing).  In all honesty, most of the outstanding examples of leaders I’ve had in life have been female.   So please, feel free to substitute any personal preference you have. It will certainly apply.


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