What's Love got to do with it?

Written By: Krista Keil

When I ask community members to define or describe “leadership,” I frequently get responses such as responsibility, service, vision, and support. While all of these are good answers, and not incorrect by any means, what about Love? It seems that the concept of leadership has become detached from that of love- but why? In my experience, the strongest leaders are those who know how to love people best. If anything, I believe that “love” should be the central tenet of leadership.

The integration of love and leadership is a theme that YLF seeks to restore within our culture today. We do this by employing a top down approach- beginning with the executive team- those in positions of leadership. The executive staff, our mentors, and students all receive the same curriculum, although adapted for age level. This semester, we have been discussing and learning how leadership is intertwined with topics such as beauty, greatness, love, freedom, mercy, and suffering. Understanding each of these concepts and its correlation to leadership is essential in developing habits that bolster effective leadership. This approach to leadership and education is a crucial part of YLF culture and it is what we strive for.

Our discussions this year have brought to light some powerful themes and reflection points for many, including the needs we see in our current culture- one of which we’ve pinpointed as the desire within every human person to be known and to be loved. YLF seeks to respond to this societal need by educating hearts and minds on topics that drive moral reasoning, enhance virtuous leadership, and by striving to practice what we preach. It is a gift to be part of an organization that values people for not only who they are, but for who they are becoming, and for who they are created to be. Perhaps most importantly, my time at YLF has shown me that the degree to which every person feels loved becomes tangible through the experience of those by whom they are led.

Throughout the course of our lives, each of us are led by many individuals including teachers, parents, siblings, mentors, employers, friends, and colleagues, amidst others. We all know how heavily influenced we have been by the above examples- personal experience teaches us that leadership style matters. Whether we like it or not, at some point in our lives, most of us will assume a position of leadership in some capacity, which is why it is vital that we seek to become the best version of ourselves possible: so that we can lead others wholeheartedly and unencumbered, to be leaders rooted in love. So how do we develop a leadership style that communicates to others that they are loved?

When I reflect upon this question, I think about some of the world’s most renowned leaders, such as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nelson Mandela, and Harriet Tubman, who above all else, were known for their hearts and acted out of love for others. These individuals loved people and were loved in return. Their love was marked by the strength of their character: for the courage they embraced, the conviction and the vulnerability they demonstrated, their acknowledgement of their own imperfections, and their genuine care for others, along with the authenticity they bled. The examples mentioned demonstrate that people want to be led by someone that they love- who wants to follow an individual who doesn’t care about their well being? People want to know that those who are leading them have their best interests at heart, that they can trust them with their hearts- when leaders act contrary to this- it is felt. Our leadership becomes enveloped in love the moment we accept people for who they are and walk alongside them, without holding the expectation of return. I believe this is the key to leadership in the workplace.

Infusing love into one’s work environment is essential- it establishes a healthy and strong culture and creates room for people to be themselves and to grow. My life experience thus far has taught me it is through loving that you come to know someone, and by coming to know someone you come to love them. The greatest task of successful leaders is not to “manage” people, but rather, to love them. As Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” This goes to say that Love and leadership should not be distinct, but rather a seamless unity. How is it that you define leadership?

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