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Love and leadership


Guest articles > Love and leadership


by: Phil Dourado


It’s commonly said of leadership, ‘They don’t need to like you. They do need to respect you.’ But, what about the other way around? Do leaders need to like the people they lead? One school of thought goes further and says if you don’t love the people you lead, you’ll never be a great leader. In this short article, Phil Dourado, author and founder of, explains

“I would far rather have a business led by love than by fear”. – Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

“…Whether it is better to be loved or feared? The answer is that one would like to be both; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far better to be feared than loved.” – Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

“It might sound slightly bizarre,” says Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, “but one of the key beliefs for effective leadership is to be madly in love with all the people you are leading.” Well, you are right Ken. It does sound slightly bizarre. For many managers, leadership is the love that dare not speak its name.

Having said that, a surprising number of hard-nosed leaders are unafraid to talk about love as being fundamental to leadership. Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, tells us there are three keys to leadership:

  1. If you are going to lead, be optimistic. If you're not, you're followers can hardly be expected to be.
  2. If you don't love people, do something else.
  3. Be absolutely clear what you stand for. (1)

Love is…

A definition would help ease any discomfort you might be feeling. Tim Collins, a career soldier, rose to prominence when an impromptu speech he gave to the Irish regiment he commanded in Iraq ended up in newspapers all over the world. Collins says, like Kelleher, Giuliani and Blanchard, that “to lead effectively, you have to love people”. Collins goes on to explain ‘love’ as knowing and caring about what motivates people and what is important to them, and helping them fulfil those aspirations at work. This, he says, is a foundation of leadership. (2)

Fear constrains behaviour. Love liberates it. So, if all you need is compliance, fear will probably do. But fear freezes initiative, stifles creativity, and provides no incentive to stretch and grow. Love is about wanting and allowing people to be at their best, and engaging with them to help them achieve that. “Love is the selfless promotion of the growth of the other,” is Milton Mayeroff’s definition. (3)

Sharing knowledge, looking after employees’ wellbeing, giving people your time and attention, respecting and acknowledging the contribution of others, all are incontrovertible aspects of good leadership. It only becomes controversial when the ‘L’ word is applied.

Jim Clemmer, a Canadian leadership thinker I admire, gets to the heart of the matter with this insight: "Leadership is emotional. Leadership deals with feelings. Leadership is made up of dreams, inspiration, excitement, desire, pride, care, passion, and love. The areas of our lives where we show the strongest leadership - including our communities, families, organizations, products, services, hobbies, and customers - are where we're most in love." (4)

I think even the most emotionally reserved leader can, at a push, understand the definition of love put forward by Colonel Collins, above. But, being ‘in love’ or even ‘madly in love’ as Clemmer and Blanchard put it, is still a step too far for many managers.


If you include yourself among those who find ‘love’ a hard word to link with ‘leadership’, because ‘love’ is personal, soft, emotional and gets in the way of hard-nosed high performance, then remember this: Herb Kelleher’s Southwest Airlines, the company he declared from the start to be ‘led by love’, whose headquarters is called ‘Love Airfield’ and whose stock market listing is ‘Luv’ is the most profitable airline in US commercial aviation history and its stock market valuation is higher than that of every other US airline put together.


USEFUL CONCEPT: Transformational vs Transactional Leadership: “I ask people all the time, ‘Would you rather be magnificent or ordinary at work?’ Everyone chooses magnificent. I don't get anyone choosing ordinary. And yet, do we regularly get magnificent behaviour at work? No we don’t. I think that's because of the way we treat people.’” In that quote, Ken Blanchard is explaining how a transformational leader works, and that requires love. If you are purely a transactional leader – negotiating performance in return for a material reward – love is not necessary, some would argue. Equally, however, ordinary people are unlikely to be inspired to extraordinary performance levels by transactional leadership alone.


SOURCES & FURTHER READING This article is adapted from Phil Dourado’s book The 60 Second Leader: Everything you need to know about leadership, in one minute bites. It’s available in all good bookshops and, in the UK, on or, in the US, on

FREE eBOOK The Little Book of Leadership, by Phil Dourado. Available here:


Contributor: Phil Dourado

Published here on: 23-Nov-07

Classification: Leadership, Emotion


MSWord: Love and leadership.doc

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