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On Leadership and Love

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Recently, my colleague Jason Dykstra passed along the following quote to me, taken from the book The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by Kouzes and Posner.  The authors of the book state the following:
“We asked John how he’d go about developing leaders, whether in colleges and universities, in the military, in government, in the non profit sector, or in private business.  He replied,
‘When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life.  The secret to success is to stay in love.  Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people.   A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that helps them to get ahead and to lead others and to achieve.  I don’t know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.’
“Staying in love” isn’t the answer we expected to get – at least not when we began our study of leadership.  But after researching leadership for over thirty years, through thousands of interviews and case analyses, we are constantly reminded of how many leaders use the word love freely when talking about their own motivations to lead.
Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting.  It’s hard to imagine leaders getting up day after day, putting in the long hours and hard work it takes to get extraordinary things done, without having their hearts in it.  The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honour the organizations by using its products and services.
Leadership is not an affair of the head.  Leadership is an affair of the heart.”
Wow, does that quote ever fit my experience.  When people ask me about my work, I say unequivocally, “I love what I do.”  I genuinely do, even when the work at times gets to be difficult.  Even more fascinating for me, however, is that as I look back over the past two-plus decades that I have been in this profession I see how the experience of love has changed not only how I do my work but it has changed me as a person as well.  I learned long ago that people and congregations and workplaces only really change when we accept them – no, love them – as they are.  There is, of course, Biblical precedence for this truth:  Don’t we change because God loves us rather than in an attempt to win God’s love?
What a lesson this has been for me.  At ARC, we don’t always see people at their best.  It could be so easy to fall into judgment, or to aspire to loving only the “good” portion of a person.  But it isn’t just the kernel of goodness that exists in all people that we are asked to love.  We are asked to love the whole person.  Yes, leadership is an affair of the heart.
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Betty Pries has more than 20 years of experience coaching, mediating, training and consulting in the areas of conflict resolution and change.   Betty's work with churches and church organizations is guided by her desire to enhance their spiritual and organizational health, and strengthen the capacities of leadership to discern a way forward.

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