In honor of Valentine’s Day today, I would like to reflect on love and leadership. The thoughts below are taken from an article by Scott C. Paine, which appeared in the Illinois Municipal Review magazine in June of 2014:
As A Leader, Should You Inspire Fear–or Love?
Niccolo Machiavelli, in his advice to rulers, famously wrote that “it is better to be feared than loved.” His reasoning was simple: a leader cannot make others love him or her. Fear, however, can be induced. Consequently, for a leader who wants to be in control, fear is the more powerful tool. Fear, however, has a fundamental flaw. It relies on irrationality. It counts on subjects to respond emotionally, unthinkingly, to bullying and the threat of violence and pain. If one submits to another out of fear, that other is in control. But sooner or later, fear yields to reason and reason seeks an opportunity to turn the tables. That’s why tyrants so rarely die peacefully in their beds.
Still, a leader who seeks to be loved is not much better off than one who seeks to be feared, nor are the people that leader governs. Certainly the people suffer less from the direct actions of a leader who seeks love than one who seeks to be feared. But a leader who seeks to be loved will find, time and again, that concern for the feelings of constituent groups will lead to a series of compromises and concessions that may satisfy their short-term desires but do not serve their long-term interests. That’s the funny thing about our long-term interests. Rarely do we love everything about what is required to pursue them. Often, we must pay a price in the short run to achieve the long-term good. Not exactly a formula for being loved in the immediate moment, is it?
There is a third path. It is one that exists only for those who believe that, in the long run, most people most of the time will come to recognize good choices…and bad ones. Experience is a pretty good, though somewhat flawed, teacher. Most of us, because our life circumstances matter to us, are pretty good students. At least that’s what I believe. I also believe a leader can earn authentic love.
It’s an odd concept, I suppose, because love is normally associated with emotion and not an earned reward. But I don’t think that is the heart and soul of love. The heart and soul of love is knowing someone for who he or she really is, and recognizing that reality as a gift. Recognizing that gift, a gift to us, we love that person. We put up with failings and overlook limitations not foolishly or passionately, but deeply rationally and emotionally. Because there is a good reason for us to love someone who is, in fact, a gift to us.
Leaders who strive mightily to discover what is best for their people, then strive equally mightily to bring it to fruition, may earn our anger and resentment for a time. We may not like their actions and may resent their message. But over time, as what is truly good becomes clearer to us, we come to appreciate them more and more. We come to see their leadership as a gift to us. And we come to love them.