Love Isn’t Just for Wimps

By Lain Ehmann

The idea of love in a business setting seems incongruous with our 21st century western sensibilities. But love is actually one of the best ways to become an effective leader, says James Hunter, author of The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader(Crown Business, 2004). “Usually we associate love with a feeling,” says Hunter. “But love, primarily, is a verb.”

The distinction is important, says Hunter. As defined by Hunter and leaders such as Vince Lombardi, Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, General Electric’s Jack Welch, and Nelson Mandela, love has little to do with flowers and candlelight and everything to do with making a conscious choice to extend oneself for the greater good of others. “Love is a choice,” says Hunter. Here are some of his thoughts on how to incorporate love into the workplace.

  • Love is an element of leadership. You might think love lies beyond the boundaries of your job description, but Hunter says it comes with leadership. “It’s what you signed up to do,” he says. “It’s an awesome, awesome responsibility. Human beings have been entrusted to your care.”
  • Love is commitment in action. How you feel about a person should have little bearing on how you choose to act, says Hunter. As a leader you must be committed to the best for your team members, regardless of their personalities. Hunter suggests thinking about love in the way Lombardi described it: As the leader, I do not have to like my players. As the leader, I have to love them.
  • Love means meeting people’s legitimate needs. Love doesn’t mean you can’t push people or occasionally hold their feet to the fire. In fact, love means giving people what they need most whether it is a pat on the back or a boot in the rear, says Hunter. “People have different needs,” he says. “They must be able to count on you to identify and meet those needs.”
  • Balance power with authority. “Most leaders tend to fall off one side of the horse or the other,” says Hunter. Powerful people tend to be task-oriented and willing to sacrifice relationships to get things done. Conversely, others in authority see leadership as a lack of conflict and choose to focus on relationships. The most effective spot sits between the two extremes. “Servant leadership centers you on the horse. People have a need not only to be hugged but to be held accountable and pushed to be the best they can be,” Hunter says.
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