In 1984, when I was launching into my pre-teen years, Tina Turner released her classic song, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
I’m sure just about anyone growing up in the 80’s can hear the chorus in their head right now…
“Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken.”
In some circles, this philosophy likely governs the work of leadership as well—keep love and emotion out of it.
Leadership … What’s Love Got to Do with It?
While Turner’s song was both fun and popular, I’d argue that it’s really bad leadership advice. Those engaged in the study and practice of leadership may not immediately think of love when they think of leadership, but I’d argue that the best leaders know how to love well in their leadership work.
Providing helpful perspective on the relationship between leadership and love, Bruce Winston argues that leaders need to see followers as hired hearts instead of hired hands. As hired hearts, followers, just like leaders, are whole individuals that are motivated by authentic consideration and care.
On this point, Kathleen Patterson argues that in contrast to fear-based approaches to leadership, love in leadership creates an atmosphere where respect, trust, and dignity are fostered.
A Range of Loves
Now when we speak of love for followers, this love, of course, needs to be distinguished from the classic form of love we consider on Valentine’s Day. For instance, when I say “I love you,” this means different things depending on the one to whom I speak it. The love I have for my wife is different that the love I have for my children. Similarly, love for friends, extended family members, neighbors, and coworkers is also different. Love is different in each of these relational contexts, but is nevertheless important and meaningful.
One of my favorite authors from the 20th century is C.S. Lewis. In his book The Four Loves, Lewis engages such distinctions in love by contrasting four Greek words for love: storgē (family bond love), philía (friendship bond love), erōs (erotic bond love), and agápē (unconditional bond love). While love for one’s spouse should encompasses all four of these loves in its highest form, love for friends and coworkers is more limited, though still rightly called love.
Agape Love & Leadership
For leaders, perhaps the most helpful of Lewis’ four loves is the agape form of love. Speaking of such love around the term agapao love, Bruce Winston notes that agapáo love means to love in a social or moral sense and that “this Greek word refers to a moral love, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.”
That’s a helpful way to understand leader love. Doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Servant leadership commitments clarify this a step further by asking whether leaders are considering the needs of followers and empowering them in their work of serving the needs of others.
This is why Kathleen Patterson believes that servant leadership is based on love at its core and that “true leadership is based on love.” With a primary commitment to followers, servant leaders drive their organizations’ missions forward toward success as they commit first to caring for (loving) their followers.
Loving Us along the Way
One of my colleagues, Mark McCloskey, argues that followers bring three core questions to their leaders. These questions often are not verbalized, but the degree to which followers have answers to these questions drives commitment and performance.
- Do you know where you’re going?
- Can you get us there?
- Will you love us along the way?
Clear vision and leadership capacity are at the core of the first two questions. The third question speaks more to the character and values guiding the leader. Followers want to know that not only will things get done, but that they will also experience loving leadership along the way.
What’s Love Got to Do with It? – Everything!
So, back to our question: What’s Love Got to Do with Leadership? When leadership is done well, I argue that love is at the core of that leadership practice. It is done with the good of followers in mind (doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons), and it’s done in the right manner (loving people along the way).
Leader Love and You
Whether leadership love is a foreign concept or an intuitive practice for you, I encourage you to take some time this week to think through how love is shaping your leadership practice. How are you engaging your followers with consideration and care? How are you serving your followers as they aim to serve others? How are you caring for and loving your followers along the way in carrying out your organization’s mission?