Great leaders achieve success by lovingly holding people accountable and speaking truth into their lives.
Conventional wisdom about leadership is wrong. For example, an executive once told me that employees should want to placate their boss. Later, I wondered, “Why should followers need to appease their leaders?”
Why not nurture followers so they will do extraordinary things for their boss because they love the leader?
I once had a boss who was a genuinely loving leader. John was an executive who endeared himself to his followers. He also spoke frankly to his employees. John did not pander to us or sugar-coat bad situations. He was kind but firm in his resolve to achieve the mission. I worked extra long hours, including nights and weekends, to help John and our team look good.
On the other hand, virtually everyone has been under the leadership of an unloving leader. When this happens in the workplace there is constant churning in the workforce, high attrition and low engagement rates.
In addition, some employees with leadership potential may be reluctant to become leaders themselves because they don’t want to be associated with unloving leaders.
I’m afraid humanity has robbed itself of potentially world-changing leaders because it has collectively pushed love out of the workplace.
I’m speaking of fraternal love, the kind you share with best friends, siblings and other relatives. Aristotle called this type of love philien. Great leaders display philien at work and, in doing so, improve their organization’s well-being, their followers’ lives and, ultimately, their own well-being.
One of the reasons we have unloving leaders is because they don’t fully understand love in the context of relationships with people they lead. The key to understanding this type of love, philien, is to accept that love is not so much a matter of emotion as it is of doing things for the benefit of another. That is, having an unselfish concern for another person and a willingness to seek the best for that person.
People are inspired not just by words but, more importantly, by their leaders’ actions. Being loving leaders helps us garner our followers’ support and increases employee engagement. That doesn’t mean that we allow employees to get away with bad behavior or poor performance. Great leaders hold people accountable and lovingly speak truth into their lives.
Early in my career, I had a string of direct supervisors who did not hesitate in holding me and others accountable. After climbing the career ladder, I thanked them for speaking truth into my life whenever I attempted to deviate from the workplace rules in those early years. I am grateful that my former bosses helped me get back on course.
A few years ago I was mentoring a younger employee who had the tendency to rub people the wrong way. As a result, she alienated some of her peers and superiors. She had most of the skills necessary to climb the ladder of success but lacked self-awareness and/or simply did not care how she came across.
I could have taken the happy path by avoiding a difficult conversation with my mentee but that would have been neglectful. As her mentor, I had a duty to point out areas that needed improvement. I’m glad I did. Eventually, she developed more self-awareness and, when she was selected for a position in another office, she thanked me for being honest with her about her need to grow in the area of self-awareness.
Over the years I have learned that leaders achieve true success when they help others succeed, especially those they lead. The most effective way to help followers succeed is to lead them from a place of love, hold them people accountable and speak truth into their lives.
Michael Folkray is developing the next generation of world-changing leaders. After a decade in private industry, he chose to dedicate the rest of his career to public service, spending the first 7 years of his government career with the United States Department of Justice. Since 2003, Michael has served in various leadership positions within the United States Department of Homeland Security. He is the founder and leader of a leadership book club for his office’s management team. Michael earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. You can read his posts here and follow him on the following platforms: LinkedIn; Twitter; Instagram.