If God is love and we have not loved, how then shall we lead?
It is often assumed that leaders should be tough as nails. Frederick Taylor, father of scientific management, developed an approach during the industrial revolution that still influences the management styles of businesses across the world today. Essentially, Taylor threatened the workers’ security until they worked like machines. The mantra echoed: “Work faster and better, or we will find someone who can.”
But the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians, “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing” (13:2b).2 Herein lies the most powerful component of being a leader who moves people: leaders must love those whom they lead.
Oftentimes, as pastors, business leaders, or even parents, we become so overcome by our priorities and responsibilities that we forget to show compassion to others. We become so focused on the end goal that we use language that can damage a healthy working environment.
Organizational needs must be presented lovingly. When a task needs to be completed, a kind tone of voice makes all the difference. It must be made clear that it is the worker who matters and is needed most. They are not cogs in a machine. When leaders love, better relationships are developed, intrinsic motivation is instilled, and productivity improves.
First, allow me to explain what kind of love I mean. The love articulated in 1 Corinthians 13 (often read at weddings) serves to define the kind of love in which Spirit-led leaders should operate. Love is selfless as it “seeks not its own” (v. 5). It “rejoices in the truth” (v. 6) and does not sugarcoat anything. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things” (v. 7).
A love-driven leader must mirror these characteristics. Although we aim to meet a certain profit or goal, our mandate as followers of Christ is to model the character of Jesus in all that we do. God is motivated by love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). The Cross is proof of God’s generous, sacrificial love. We are to demonstrate that same “giving” love to others, especially those we lead.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).
Everything we do—whether it is leading a team at work or ministering to the family at home—should be done in love and obedience to the Lord. Leaders serve God by serving others.
Lead with love, lead with intention
Love involves more than emotion. It requires intention and action. One does not love by accident.
Love-driven leaders understand how to speak the truth in a way that brings about growth, not pain. The apostle Paul was honest to the Corinthian Christians in addressing their problems in the church. He also urged them to speak truth to one another and dispel sinful behavior so that they could be like “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8).
When we fail to serve God in the way He intended, God disciplines and corrects us. He does not shame us or make us feel guilt, nor does He leave us on our own to learn the right way. Like the love-driven leader that He is, God not only gives us direction but also guides our steps. He provided the perfect example in Jesus Christ. We know authentic love through what Christ did for us. We can aim to imitate that kind of love-driven leadership in ministering to those we lead.
When we are honest in our words and actions, we act lovingly: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son” (Heb. 12:6, NIV). Speaking the truth in love requires the right word choice. For love-driven vocabulary, use the Ephesians 4:29 test: “Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up, that it may give grace to the listeners” (MEV).
Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will these words build up?”
Zig Ziglar said, “You don’t build a business—you build people—and then people build the business.”3 Apply this mentality to all facets of your life. Build yourself and build the people around you, especially those you lead.
Furthermore, evaluate the thinking behind your words. I believe bad thinking leads to bad speaking. We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to pure thoughts. When faced with an issue, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to provide discernment and enable us to speak restorative words into a situation. Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
Spiritually disciplined thinking, which is careful and untainted by false interpretations or influence, generates “fitly spoken” words. The language of a leader has a remarkable impact on establishing a loving, nurturing work environment.
Lastly, leaders who lead with love and intention do not turn off when they go home. I heard someone once say, “Home is where I don’t have to guard my words and actions. My home is my castle, and I don’t have to be on guard all the time.” The opposite is true.
Leaders who are truly motivated by love lead well in every environment, whether at home, in the workplace, at church, or in personal relationships. Never let your intention fade for the purpose of comfort. When you consistently demonstrate effective, love-driven leadership, you leave behind a legacy wherever you go.
Love-driven leadership seeks out potential
God has a plan for every person you lead. Your responsibility is to lead people to fulfill God’s plan for them and help them discover their God-given potential.
The journey to fulfilling one’s potential begins with realizing one’s potential. I remember a pastor once pointed out a man to me and said, “He’s thirty-eight and has lots of potential. What that really means is, he ain’t done nothing yet.”
Leaders can play an important role in helping a person realize and ultimately fulfill their potential. At the root of this process is a person’s spiritual condition.
There are certainly people who have moved far away from God and their God-given purpose and yet are talented and successful. However, they are doing so well only in their own eyes. Without God, human potential is limited: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). God can direct our paths and provide favor along the way, and a Spirit-led leader can be instrumental in that journey.
To have an influence over a person requires having a relationship with them.
In the same way that relationships are mutually beneficial, influence is also a two-way street. If we want to be influential leaders, we must be willing to be influenced by the needs of those we lead. Recognize a person’s potential and demonstrate love by working to help that person fulfill their potential. A team must feel that their leader genuinely cares about them. Because the leader generates a culture of meaningful relationships, a matrix of influence will manifest.
Prioritizing relationships will also lead to strong work efficacy. Part of relating to a person is understanding why they do what they do. If we can determine the tendencies of our team members, we are better positioned to handle behavioral issues that can hinder our team, such as self-sabotage, the imposter syndrome, insecurities, and fatalism.
Because we lead people, not robots, we must understand their strengths and weaknesses because this is key to recognizing a person’s potential. Operate in your strengths as a leader, and encourage team members to operate in their strengths as well. Doing so draws on our potential and propels success.
I take comfort in knowing that God knows me more than I know myself. If I listen to His voice, He will lead me to the lane in which I work best. God will also guide me in leading others to their lane so that they, too, can thrive in what they do.
Leader love bears, believes, hopes, and endures
Love-driven leaders endure trials and refuse to be overwhelmed.
Jesus was unbothered by a storm that threatened to shipwreck Him and His disciples. When they frantically woke Him up, He remained composed and calmed the sea, saying, “ ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ ” (Mark 4:40, NIV).
Becoming overwhelmed will not change the situation. It is also a form of focusing on the self. Jesus encouraged His disciples to be concerned about the needs of others and to demonstrate love to them in action. When we feel paralyzed with stress, we tend to concentrate on our own needs and what we require from other people. However, when we serve others, we feel good about ourselves and reclaim our motivation and sense of purpose.
Overall, we need to stay afloat in the midst of a storm. Rebecca, our office manager, created an object lesson for the overwhelmed. She wore water wings to work! It was a way to symbolize that floatation devices are always available for the overwhelmed. Rebecca also succeeded in bringing laughter into the chaos. Loving leaders seek opportunities to help their team weather the storm, even if it means wearing water wings in a professional work environment.
As Christians, what keeps us afloat is the Holy Spirit. When we are grappling with too many tasks and not enough time, when a plan gets thrown off course and the team begins to drown in work, do what the disciples did. Do all that you can do in the situation, but also trust the Lord to help your team. Pray for guidance, discernment, and peace. Loving leaders do not rely on their own strength; they rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit. They have faith in the God in them and the God in their team members.
Our ability to endure any challenge is a function of our mind-set. Solomon says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Our success is predicated on how we think about our teams and our projects. When we trust in the Lord, we stay afloat and endure. When we have faith in His design in us to be creative, we thrive. Leaders who love their teams allow space for innovation because creativity is a God-given quality. The Holy Spirit helps us see possibilities in everything around us. We are born to create.
Let love remain
Success in leadership involves strong, genuine work relationships, a language that builds up a team, and the faith to remain calm in the midst of chaos. But none of these healthy work qualities would lead to the success that God intended if they were not motivated by love: “If I give all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3, MEV).
As we saw in John 3:16, our God is a God who gives, and we are to do the same. Instead of blithely enjoying the privileges of being in authority, serve your team in the same self-sacrificing way that you serve God. Let love be the motivator.
Love-driven leaders pursue success—but not at the expense of their team. They pursue excellence—but not above being ambassadors for Christ in their conduct. Love-driven leaders are motivated by a desire to bring glory to God.
As we lead with the heart of God, we are ever reaching beyond our own beliefs and opinions to a higher standard, the Word of God, and the example of Christ.
1 This article is based on Steve Greene, Love Leads (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2017).
2 Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from The King James 2000 Bible, copyright © Doctor of Theology Robert A. Couric 2000, 2003.
3 Zig Ziglar, AZ Quotes, accessed October 2, 2017, azquotes.com/quote/729932.