Researchers and leadership authors continually contend that the best leaders are those who love and care for those they lead. Examples include:
- In his seminal book Servant Leadership, published over forty years ago, Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leader” and painted a picture that the most effective leaders love and serve those they lead.
- In his popular books Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, researcher and author Daniel Goleman writes that the most effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. They have the ability to manage their emotions, to genuinely connect with people, to offer kindness and empathy, to lead with joy and inspiration, and to display the master skill of patience.
- In the recent research-based leadership book Return on Character, Fred Kiel reveals that better performing companies are led by leaders who are filled with integrity, compassion, and forgiveness.
Christian leaders should be the most loving leaders. God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:5). We have been empowered by God to love people the way God has loved us. The apostle John challenges us to love as God has loved us. Below are three ways we should express love to those we lead:
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)
1. As God sought us, seek others.
We did not love God first, but He loved us first. There will, at times, be relational tension with people on the team you are leading. There will be struggles with peers, frustration, and differences of opinion. Go first in pursuing reconciliation, in keeping a short record of wrongs, in making things right.
2. As God gave His Son, give of yourself.
God sent His One and Only Son so we may live forever. Be generous to those you are leading. Be generous with your time, resources, and attention.
3. As Christ absorbed our punishment, absorb the pain of others.
Because God is holy, sin must be punished. Because God is love, He wants to pardon us. So both to pardon us and to punish sin, the wrath of God was turned from us and turned to Christ (propitiation). The sacrifice was once and for all, so leaders don’t absorb the wrath of God toward sin. But leaders can absorb pain and carry burdens. Leaders can lovingly carry the burdens of those they lead and absorb their concerns. Max Depree said, “Leaders don’t inflict pain, they share pain.”
How can we better love the people we are leading? By looking to Christ. As we see His example and reflect on the great love we have received, our love for others will increase. As our awe for His love increases, so does our love for others.