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Love and Leadership

A person accepts the challenges, responsibilities and opportunities of leadership for one of two reasons… Love or ambition. For most of us, it’s some combination of the two. To be an authentic and effective leader, the scale had better tip toward love––most of the time. Authentic leadership is, above all, love. Think about it… You might accept leadership because you love service, you love the people you serve––you love the challenge, the opportunity for autonomy or the chance to discover, develop and share your talents and skills. You may love your country, your community or your organization. You may love the work you do or the feeling you get from a job well done. Or––you see leadership as an opportunity for gain. It’s no secret that leaders tend to get ahead in life. Leaders earn more, enjoy greater options for wealth and fame. Leaders control greater resources and can earn the affection, loyalty and admiration of others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ambition. There’s nothing horrible in wanting any of the benefits I just mentioned. Quite the opposite. The desire for improvement and personal gain can be a powerful force that motivates one to become a beneficent and effective leader. It’s a matter of balance… I am an unabashed reductionist. It is extremely useful to distill complex ideas to their most basic elements––reduce the complexity to bite size chunks that we can see, understand and work with. You could make a decent argument that one of the most complex and demanding human endeavors is that of leadership. Leadership is of course a role, but it also defines one of the most complicated, dynamic and essential of all human relationships. The relationship between the leader and the people he serves is inexorably dependent on the leader’s intentions. And those intentions range between pure love and pure ambition. Leadership is a dynamic balancing act between those two motivational forces. Long ago Confucius taught that the most important human qualities were courage, compassion and wisdom…

I’ve shared those three qualities for years now as the most essential qualities of an effective leader. Of the three, compassion is the mitigating quality that separates leaders from those who might become dictators and tyrants. When you lead out of love and compassion, your dominant motivation is service. When you seek leadership in the blind pursuit of personal gain or selfishness, you will inevitably find yourself at the crossroads between leadership and dictatorship. Every leader faces a choice between service and personal gain at some point.

There will be a time when you have to choose between that which is better for you personally, or that which is better for the organization or people you serve. How do you choose? If it is solely ambition, you are likely to make a decision that appears to further your own aims, often at the expense of others. You may now choose to impose your will by edict––by fear, force or coercion. If you choose this road, you’re no longer a leader––you’re a dictator. When you can put your own ambitions in perspective and in proportion with a sincere dedication to service, then you have the best chance to express yourself as an effective leader. And that’s how love is tied to genuine leadership, particularly in the simple but profound sense that love is “to have a strong liking for; take great pleasure in…” ( When you can take great pleasure in the service of others. When you can take great pleasure in the accomplishments of others and in the knowledge that what you are doing together with the people you serve is meaningful, then you’re going a long way toward earning in return the respect, loyalty, affection and love of those people. That’s genuine love––and that’s authentic leadership.

Dictionary graphic courtesy of Stuart Miles and

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