Love & Leadership: A Relationship that's Often Ignored
This 40 for 40 post is about two very important components of effective leadership that often aren't discussed together; leadership and love. Yup, you heard me right, love. Not love in the romantic sense; which can be fleeting, based on the highs and lows of emotion, and inconsistent, I'm making a case for the properties of love - time, investment, hope, expectations, responsibility, accountability, integrity, and care.
The love elements just described are the quintessential parts essential to making any machine work that are often unseen, unspoken, but paramount in its importance. I'm describing the proverbial car battery that provides the power so that the engine can run. Any institution, organization, company, civic group, etc., that desires to be a well run machine will not reach their full potential if the love elements of leadership are not embedded deep within their core. Great leaders consider this challenge a "must do." Good leaders recognize it's importance but don't force it. Average leaders can either take it or leave it (This is, in large part, because most average leaders don't consider themselves average. We'll discuss further in a future post). Bad leaders flat out reject this principle.
The Elements: Responding vs. Reacting
As we approach Father's Day next weekend, I've been reminded of just how important it is to be purposeful about how you choose to love the people you share life with. Without purposely injecting love within the systems, people, and networks you care about, you are more likely to "react" instead of "responding" when hard times arise. In the movies and television shows we love, the hero/heroine often swoops in to save the day and problems resolve themselves in neat, succinct 30 to 120 minute chunks (re: any superhero or magical negro film ranging from Black Panther to The Legend of Bagger Vance. Sorry, I couldn't resist dropping that in.). Unlike scripted dramas, however; people can be "difficult," and attempts to love and lead aren't always well received, can become politicized for agenda driven motives, and sometimes they are flat out rejected. A key component to effective leadership is being able to predict and recognize difficult situations as they appear. Then, respond appropriately by using love leadership principles to model and thus reinforce your expectations (for the employee, colleague, family member, etc.) who is a part of your team. Failure to do this leads to what you might expect, apathy, or worse yet, rejection of once shared vision and team mission. The best leaders never stop; giving sound advice, serving, speaking truth to power, and leading by example as a means of showing love.
The Elements: Agape Love, Grace, & Leadership
Agape love is selfless, not selfish. God's example of this by His grace, mercy, and love for us is a constant reminder of why we will always fall short in this category without Christ. God's example of not giving up on us in spite of our rebellion epitomizes just how difficult it is to truly comprehend His power and the standard we are to aim for in how we show love to one another. No one is perfect, and I absolutely fall short in this area as I grow in all of my professional and personal leadership roles. That said, I'm thankful for God's daily supply of equal parts grace and mercy.
A former pastor of mine (Strickland) had a great way to describe the difference between grace and mercy, as the two concepts are often conflated or simply misunderstood. He described mercy as "not getting what you deserve" when you've made a mistake. The example he gave was a story about a moment when one of his small children were deliberately disobedient. Instead of giving him punishment he "earned," he gave his son mercy by not giving him a timeout, spanking, or some other form of discipline. The child apologized for his actions and received mercy. He juxtaposed that point by recanting the same story of disobedience from his son, and asked the congregation to imagine what grace would look like in that exact situation. Grace is the antecedent to mercy. Instead of "not "getting what you deserve," grace is GIVING you something that you did not earn. In the example of his son being disobedient, grace would be giving the boy a huge piece of his favorite cake in lieu of the spanking/ time out/ punishment that he "earned."
The great thing about grace is that it's given and not earned. The best leaders recognize there are times where the best outcome comes from gracefully responding to difficulties instead of escalating them. On the other hand, as a social worker I recognize that individuals and groups have the right to self-determine the actions that ultimately influence their future. For better or worse, freedom of choice includes the freedom to fail. If you're a parent who has watched your son or daughter make mistakes that you could have easily helped them avoid, you know exactly what I mean here. Sometimes the best lessons in life are the scars earned from self-inflicted wounds. Effective leaders have to discern how to best get their message across to those who are responsible for. My recommendation is that leaders consider infusing the elements of love based leadership discussed in this post to their repitore of skills. It may be the missing piece to the puzzle that will take their professional, civic, or personal team over the top.