Leadership is Love

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Leadership Development

The other day, an esteemed colleague and I were having a discussion about why it seemed so difficult for some leaders, or others in authority at work, to see employees as humans and treat them accordingly. It compelled me to connect leadership and love.  With Valentine’s Day approaching, I decided it was a perfect time to go public.

The issue at hand was an example I had from a client — a manager who had inherited an employee who was clearly not a fit for a position she had been shoe-horned into.  The employee knew it.  Her manager, my client, knew it.  The employee needed to find another position with the company or move on.  It was an increasingly painful experience as they both continued to suffer from her non-performance and insecurity.

The issue for me was that “the powers to be” (yep, I’m being cryptic on purpose) had yet to craft and finalize a letter to this effect in the appropriate language, which I can only assume would limit liability.  They had been working, or should I say, not working on this for four months.  My client and her employee really couldn’t proceed as they needed to without it.

Every time my client called them they acknowledged it was not a difficult or time-consuming activity, but there were just more pressing issues.

Not for my client and her employee.

As a former HR Manager, I found out by accident that I tended to have a different perspective.  Instead of leaving those I serve hanging, I made the choice to deliberately assess my options and whenever possible, do what I could so that they are not leaving work with a knot in their stomach or suffering a great heaviness in their heart and possibly losing sleep that night.

Unfortunately, all leaders aren’t built the same way.  They allow their challenges (and choices) to result in unnecessary discomfort for the people they serve. And the end result appears to be inattention or indifference, to the other people in the organization.  It happens far too often.

My conclusion: true character-based leadership is love.  You can say I’m really talking about compassion, empathy or thoughtfulness, but I say “love”; not the emotion, but love used as a verb.

The Greeks called this type of love, “agape,” which can be described as choosing what is right and best for the other person, rather than what you want or feel like doing.  It is about behavior, not feelings.  Yes, it requires an openheartedness.  You can call that feeling, but I suggest that to open your heart is a choice too.

As a leader, are you willing to choose to be openhearted enough to allow yourself to see how your actions affect others?  Your choice can cause someone to lose sleep.  What would it take for you to be openhearted enough to feel the consequences of your choices?  Are you openhearted enough, as a leader, to make a choice right now to lighten another’s load and allow them some ease?

Whether you consider Valentine’s Day personal, about romantic love, or a holiday contrived to make money… in this “season of love,” I ask you to consider, do you make the choice to lead with love?

Image credits: Microsoft Clipart

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About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Angie Chaplin  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

LOVE this (pun intended). Mary’s comments are right in line with Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. In fact, the LEADERLOVE quote I’ve been sharing today is: “The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor the organization by using its products and services. Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”

Thanks, Mary, for reinforcing the importance leading with love — love for yourself, love for those you lead, and love for those who add to your leadership experiences. May you have a lovely day!

Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thanks so much for your comments, Angie.

I “love” the idea of “staying in love with leading…Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.” Wow. Powerful.

Thx. Mary

Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  | 

BTW, Angie, what is “LEADERLOVE” that you are referring to? M

Angie Chaplin  |  14 Feb 2011  | 

LEADERLOVE is just something that popped into my head this morning.

Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  | 

I’m really not intending the pun, but I “love” that it just popped in your head this morning!

Angie Chaplin  |  14 Feb 2011  | 

I’m glad you found it as powerful as I found your post. I’m a certified master facilitator candidate for The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner (are you familiar with it), and am always seeking to reinforce their research on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. It’s appropriate today to focus on Encouraging the Heart.Thanks again!

Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  | 

Thanks Angie. I’m very familiar with Kouzes & Posner and am aware of and have scanned “The Leadership Challenge.” I read their book, “Credibility” and that was the be all/end all for me :)

That is so cool that you are a master facilitator of that program. I looked at your website and you have a lot going on! M

Shawn Murphy  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for so succinctly showing the value of love in leadership acts. For any leader struggling with the action of love, this should hit them squarely in the eyes and help them see how the lack of love unnecessarily pains those who show up daily to give of their talents and hearts.

Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thank you Shawn for the very kind and supportive words.

I do hope it gets the attention of those struggling with the action of love.


Tara Alemany  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Great post, Mary! It seems to me that you’ve hit on a topic that should be near and dear to the hearts of many character-based leaders. When we choose to lead with character, we must base our actions on the innate value of those we lead. This can be a very challenging thing to do if we don’t find a reason to “love” our followers. We may not always “like” everyone on our team, but we should always be treating them with the consideration due another human being with feelings.

When I speak to groups, I often will ask a leading question about what they do with the business cards they collect at various networking events, business meetings, etc. I’ll see sheepish grins around the room with a few tentative hands raised to answer the question. People will share their thoughts and ideas, and we build upon them. But I always finish it with this: Remember that each one represents an individual (someone’s brother, mother, lover and friend), not just a business. How would you like people to treat your loved ones? Give them the same respect.

Joseph Mullin  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Excellent post Mary,

Love should be an integral part of leadership. It can be thought of in other terms as well.
If I use the latest buzzword, I hate that word, Emotional Intelligence, which used to be known as soft skills which has always been known as human nature.

If leaders understood human nature then they would come to the realization that they are not running their companies at full potential. While their company may be highly profitable it is only mediocre at best from the employee stand point. There is a power in the love that you speak of that isn’t even being tapped into.

I know the excuses that soft skills are an intangible and you cannot put metrics on intangibles. Yes and this is a poor excuse! Let me explain how I did it in 2 companies. While you cannot measure the intangible itself you can measure the effect of it.

Take a snap shot of all the metrics you measure currently. Implement the skills and give it a few weeks to work well. Then take another snap of the same metrics and compare.

You will see that you have achieved higher productivity, higher quality of work, fewer mistakes, better customer support, and higher moral along with other factors.

A place with a leaders love is the company people want to work at where people strive to get in. These are places where they are not worried about employee retention.

Lets start to feel the love in every company!

Mary C Schaefer  |  17 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Wow, Joseph, what powerful statements. I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t have to be so difficult.

I especially related to this comment: “Love should be an integral part of leadership. It can be thought of in other terms as well. If I use the latest buzzword, I hate that word, Emotional Intelligence, which used to be known as soft skills which has always been known as human nature.”

I have often said we need to quit calling them “soft” skills, they are “hard” skills for so many reasons, not the least of which they are “hard” (difficult) for way too many people. And it IS too bad, because it IS about human nature.

In my own observation of why some of us are so disconnected from the human nature of the human beings we serve, is because we are disconnected from our own human nature. Boy, this is going to be another controversial statement, but I want leaders to “feel” more. I guess that is what I meant when I asked leaders to feel what it would be like to know that your action/inaction (about something you could *truly* do something about) was going to make someone lose sleep.

Thank you again for commenting, Joseph.


Mary C Schaefer  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Tara, what an excellent exercise about the business cards, reminding people of other’s humanity.

And I love this: “When we choose to lead with character, we must base our actions on the innate value of those we lead.”

This takes me toward another post, but one reason I think people are so far removed from their impact on others, is that they are disconnected from their own humanity, and from taking issue (respectfully) with how they are being treated, or how they are treating themselves. If we truly felt our own humanity, why would we want to be thoughtless and hurtful to others?

David Willis  |  14 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Showing people respect when leading is huge. If you don’t respect me, I will not follow you where you are going. Yes. I may halfheartedly pretend to follow along (if my livelyhood is attached to saying yes or no), but you won’t have the best of me.

Leadership is love. What a good thought. If I am able to do this and show people respect I will have very few career regrets when it is all said and done.

Mary C Schaefer  |  15 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Thank you so much for your response, David.

“Yes. I may halfheartedly pretend to follow along (if my livelyhood is attached to saying yes or no), but you won’t have the best of me.”

That is one of those things that seems inherently obvious to you and me, but for some reason, too many leaders to not get it. Not only do I think missing this is not character-based, but it is simply bad management too. Why would you not want to treat your assets in a way they will perform optimally? A manufacturing leader would not approve denying a machine oil to keep it running, but for some reason, some think people should be able to get along without love, which is something humans need to run optimally.

And we know we don’t even have to call it love. Feeling appreciated and a sense of belonging, being allowed to feel like you are making a contribution, and having someone take the time to help you understand how your work fits, (i.e. its meaning) are all human needs that could easily be met at work.

Sorry, for whatever reason, your comments got me on a role. I see another post in my future :)

Thank you again, David.

Annabel Kaye  |  15 Feb 2011  |  Reply

I couldn’t agree with you more.

All my experience of employment law and the ‘dark side of HR’ indicates that the kindest and most loving thing to do when someone is not in the right job, is to resolve the situation.

Managers who delay often torture people who know they are ‘failing’ and the whole situation can degenerate into bullying and long term damage.

The loving thing to do is to be honest about what needs to be done, and what the real options are and to move on.

You should not use employment law as an excuse for inaction, nor ‘getting the paperwork right’ as a way of doing nothing. When the heart and the head work together there is no delay…

Mary C Schaefer  |  17 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Annabel, thank you SO MUCH for adding your comment. It was said so beautifully.

It sounds like it comes from experience, and that you bring a much-needed perspective to those you touch. Mary

Phil Eastman  |  17 Feb 2011  |  Reply

You so rightly state that love is a matter of character and character is the fuel for leadership. I believe that to effectively lead people you must love them. Possessing a deep abiding care and concern for them as people before they are units of production. People will follow a leader that demonstrates to her people that they really do matter.

Nancy L. Seibel  |  08 Mar 2015  |  Reply

Thank you for drawing the distinction between love as an emotion and love as demonstrated in “choosing what is right and best for the other person, rather than what you want or feel like doing. It is about behavior, not feelings.” As I think about this, I would include the other words you wrote, compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness. I am saying this thinking about we can choose what’s best from a collaborative, person-to-person perspective (which I understand to be what you’re thinking of) or we could choose what’s best based on a worldview or set of assumptions that doesn’t fully understand or account for the other. Anyhow, I’ve been thinking of this topic and of our culture’s unwillingness to discuss the idea of love (respect, support, caring, empathy) as part of the world of work. It was very helpful to read your ideas here. Thank you!

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