In my last post, I took a bit of a contrarian look at passion as a leadership trait. Who knew people were so passionate about passion? The comments I received inspired me to publish this piece on love and leadership.

While most people tend to view passion as a positive leadership trait, I have found many people view love as a negative leadership trait. Let me state right from the outset, you’ll never be a great leader without being loving and compassionate. We simply have a lot to gain (and give) by leading with love.

While today’s post is a bit more kumbaya than most, please don’t check out on me because you perceive this topic too gooey and gushy to be relevant. If you take what follows to heart, it might just change your world.

I viewed a brief Twitter exchange between Becky Robinson (@BeckyRbnsn) and David Hutchens (@davidbhutchens) which piqued my curiosity. David asked Becky, “How come no one ever talks about love as a leadership competency?” I think it’s a great question. While love and leadership are certainly two words you don’t often hear in the same sentence, I can assure you that rarely does great leadership exist without love being present and practiced. In fact, if you examine failed leaders as a class, you’ll find that a lack of love, misplaced love, or misguided love was a contributing cause of said failures, if not the root cause. In the text that follows I’ll examine the softer sides of leadership – love, compassion, humility, kindness, and empathy.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but perhaps not in this fashion…True leadership is a dedication to something beyond oneself. If you’re not committed, passionate, and intentional in your focus on something besides yourself, you might be in a leadership role, but you’re not a leader. Leadership is not about your avarice, ego, pride, or arrogance – it’s about caring for something bigger than you are. Leadership in the truest sense of the word is nothing if not love. Do me a favor and conduct a brief gut check and see if this resonates with you – How many truly great leaders have you encountered during your lifetime? Of those great leaders, you’ve crossed paths with, how many of them were kind, caring, compassionate, humble and loving individuals? Of the legions of not so great leaders you’ve encountered over the years, how many of them were absent of these qualities? Starting to get my drift?

News Flash – the phrase compassionate leadership is not an oxymoron. While many people immediately conjure up an image of the ever so tough, bombastic extrovert without an ounce of compassion as the picture of what constitutes a real leader, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the toughest leaders I know are the most compassionate leaders. If a leader’s primary obligation is for the care and well-being of those under their charge, then I would suggest that you cannot be an effective leader over the long-term without love, compassion, and empathy. So why then is it that so many leaders seem to struggle with seeing a tender heart as a strength and not a weakness? Read on and find out…

People who attempt to lead out of self-serving motivations or misplaced intentions are not really leading – they are pursuing power, glory, and status. This is the antithesis of true leadership. People who attempt to lead out of obligation do so out of burden not love only to eventually become weary and jaded. It is love for those you lead that allows for right thinking, proper perspective, and pure motivations. A leader whose focus is on serving others will find it difficult to wander off course. While being motivated solely by conquest may allow you to achieve a stated goal or objective, the cost will be great. History is littered with leaders of this ilk who have not endured the test of time often.  As I mentioned earlier, it is always important to remember that leading and being a real leader is not one and the same.

I don’t know anyone whose been on the receiving end of authentic and appropriate love and compassion that has a distaste for it. Despite this, many in the leadership profession work very hard at maintaining that carefully crafted cool facade. They resist at all costs letting that dreaded public display of compassion slip out. It’s as if such an act would tarnish their reputation forever by making them appear weak. This is just not the case…compassion is one of the most overlooked, underrated, and yet valuable of all leadership traits. Leaders who show compassion are respected, trusted, and enjoy the loyalty of those they lead.

People’s resistance to display compassion, other than to family and friends, is what makes it so complex. The natural inclination of most is to react compassionately when and/or where needed – that is until they stop to think about the ramifications of doing so. Social and societal stigmas are definitely in play when it comes to love and leadership. I believe the fear of public misperceptions has trained many people to completely avoid outward displays of compassion. It’s as if it has been socialized out of them over time.

It’s also important to recognize that while feigned compassion is the height of insincerity, true love is the best form of authenticity and the purest form of strength. It takes far more courage to display love than disinterest, as compassion requires an investment of time, caring, empathy, and understanding. Leaders need to understand that compassion humanizes them, allows them to build stronger trust bonds, and engenders confidence and loyalty from peers and subordinates alike.

The bottom line…good leaders are kind, empathetic, compassionate, and loving leaders, which enables them to be fair, just, and to display a steely resolve when needed. What do you think? Should leaders be more open with their feelings? Should the traits mentioned above be more formally cultivated in leadership development programs? As always, I’m interested in your comments…