A quick internet search will reveal that there are many styles of leadership. Whether it be authoritarian, strategic, visionary, coaching, transitional, adaptive, or any number of other styles, each style is a method of providing direction, implementing plans, and motivating people.
Leadership styles are based on a number of factors, including the level of control and power the leader possesses. Different situations call for different approaches. Most leaders use a combination of styles to motivate and equip people to fulfill a purpose or mission.
What’s Your Story?
Regardless of the style, your inner story will subconsciously guide the way you lead. You do not leave who you are, how you think, or what you feel, at home. Your needs, emotions, and dreams come with you. As much as you want the people with whom you work to trust and respect you, the people who look to you as their leader are looking for the same.
Over my years I have learned there are two underlying influences in the style of every leader. There are those who lead with fear and there are those who lead with love.
The question is, which is the underlying influence in your leadership?
Fear-based leadership usually shows up in two ways. You either make decisions based upon what you want, or you are paralyzed because you want people to like you.
Either you react to challenges based upon assumption and hearsay or you deny and dismiss challenges because of the fear of offending someone. You either make unilateral decisions or make no decisions which lead to “anything goes.” Your cynical attitudes permeate your style, and you pass your pessimism on to others.
Even when it is not your intention, you create an “us and them” culture based upon mistrust. You either micro-manage out of fear things will not be done the way you want them done or your desire to be liked creates a culture of mistrust where everyone is doing his or her own thing. Lots of activity but little production. Both types of fear-based leadership become the center of all the work.
Fear-based leadership cultivates fear rather than trust and stability. It always seeks an enemy. Its focus is usually on something the leader is against rather than on people and their potential.
There are good people who are motivated by fear. Just remember, who you are is how you lead.
The opposite of leading with fear is leading with love. Loved-based leadership is relational. You are vulnerable and genuine with the people with whom you work. Love-based leaders look for their potential and equip them to live up to their potential. You are generous in your assessments, giving the benefit of the doubt. You are courageous in your decision-making, creating a space for trust and collaboration.
Love-based leaders cultivate trust and compassion. They take pride in the work of the people entrusted to their care. Love-based leaders focus on the well-being of the people entrusted to them. They are grateful for the work of their colleagues and give credit to whom credit is due.
Lead with Love
Love-based leadership is rooted in unconditional love. It is selfless and works for the well-being, not only of the people entrusted to your care but of all people, especially strangers. Love-based leadership is Christian leadership. It is greater than your likes and dislikes. It is greater than your fears. John in his first letter wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18).
There is one characteristic of love-shaped leadership that sets the foundation for everything else: self-care and self-compassion. Stephen R. Covey, in his writing and speaking, emphasized the significance of love in leadership. According to Covey, love, trust, and managing people with a dedication to helping them reach their full potential were key responsibilities of leaders.
He said having a love for yourself was critical to your performance as a leader. If you want to care for others, you must look after yourself. Love-shaped leadership is built upon a solid basis of self-care and compassion. It is the first step toward leading with love.
You can lead with love once you have established care and compassion for yourself.
Three Characteristics of Love-Shaped Leaders
There are many characteristics of love, but here are three to help you lead with love.
One of the most essential characteristics of an effective leader is vulnerability. It is one of the qualities we look for in others but is the last quality we want to show of ourselves. To lead with love means you nurture a culture where people feel safe and where you, when struggling, find support and care.
It takes courage to be vulnerable. Instead of hiding your failures and covering up your weaknesses, you own them. You ask for feedback and learn from others. Your authenticity helps build trust and your capacity to care. Your experience of trust creates compassion for and acceptance of those around you.
Although vulnerability is difficult work, it helps you become the leader you are created to be.
Explore more about the intersection of vulnerability and leadership here.
One of the most desired characteristics of an effective leader is the ability to listen. It is another quality we look for in others but find it difficult for ourselves. But love-shaped leadership is focused on the well-being of others. Listening builds trust and shows your capacity to care. It means you create a culture where people feel safe to speak up and where you are slow to shut people down.
It takes courage to listen. You know where you are going. As a leader, you know the path that needs to be taken. You know what needs to be done to navigate the barriers. But unless you give people the opportunity to be heard, they do not feel they are a valuable part of what you are doing.
A reminder is, God has given you two ears but one mouth. It is difficult to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but it helps you become the leader you are created to be.
What stops people from listening to you? Explore more here.
One of the most needed characteristics of an effective leader is generosity. It means that you make a genuine effort to understand others. You only have to look at your relationships with family and friends to experience how difficult it is to truly understand one another. Being generous means that you assume that your colleagues have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
It is closely related to listening. Generosity requires patience and humility. It requires a sense of wonder and curiosity and a genuine interest in the people you are leading. You listen to what is being said, ask questions for clarity, and explore their perspectives. It is easy to judge and blame when things do not work the way they should but staying open and curious in conversations creates an environment where people feel heard, seen, and truly cared for.
The best way to think of it is, you are loving others as God in Christ has loved you. It is difficult to be generous when you are depending upon others to do quality work, but your practice of generosity will help you become the leader you are created to be.
Perfect love casts out fear
You know better than anyone what motivates you and your leadership. This week, examine your leadership style. Are you leading with fear? Afraid to be vulnerable? Does fear emerge when you seek to listen and develop relationships? Are you afraid to be generous with colleagues?
As you reflect this week, keep in mind that you were created to lead at this time and place. Accepting God’s love for you is as important as you sharing God’s love for others. In fact, there is no love-shaped leadership, your acceptance of God’s love for you and for the people entrusted to you care.
Who you are is how you lead. I pray that your relationships are shaped by love this week.