Love and Leadership

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Expressing God, Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved, Perseverance

Great leaders are a rare and wonderful. The impact they have on others ripples out through time and place. But what makes a great leader?

For those of us in the United States, in February, we honor two of the greatest leaders our country has ever had—Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Along with other countries, we also celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is centered on love. Now, on that day, the focus is primarily the romantic kind of love, but it still got me thinking about leadership and love.

What motivates truly great leaders? It’s not just vision alone; it’s not logic; it’s certainly not selfishness; it’s not weapons of fear; it’s not willpower or force; it’s not even great intellect or wisdom. What makes a great leader, what motivates those who bring blessings to others—to their family members, their friends, their nation, or the world? It’s love. Love is the defining characteristic of true leadership.

True, all the qualities that go along with blessed leadership—a powerful vision, clear thinking, humility, the ability to make wise and principled decisions, negotiating skills, effective communication, strength, moral fortitude, and other qualities—are highly important. But what stands above all else is love. Love motivated Jesus, who came to show us that the very essence of God is indeed Love. And it’s love that motivated Washington and Lincoln.

Washington could have been king. The people asked him to be king, but he declined. Why? He loved liberty, both civil and religious, which he had dearly fought for with all his heart and soul. He had fought against all odds, braved foul weather, conquered fear and doubt, and defeated the opponents who outnumbered his own troops. His love for his country and for the principles he fought to secure overshadowed any other thought or feeling.

As he said farewell to public office in 1796, he emphasized the importance of “a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.” As a result of his steadfast love and devotion, the people of his nation were allowed to explore, grow, figure out what democracy should look like, make their own mistakes, problem-solve, invent, make more mistakes, and continue to learn what makes great leadership.

Love motivated Lincoln, too. What else could have kept him going through the Civil War? His nation was split. While there were various reasons why the South seceded, one of the primary reasons was slavery. It was Lincoln’s love of humanity, liberty, principle, and justice, indeed, his compassion that made him dedicate his life to ensuring that this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth” (Gettysburg Address, 1863).

He stood up to terror. He stood up to disunity. He stood up for dignity, liberty, kindness, decency, “unalienable Rights.” Lincoln would not let slavery last. He could not stand by and watch the oppressed continue to be oppressed. Nor would he let his nation be divided. And after all that, he was assassinated. What motivated him? Nothing other than love could have enabled him to withstand the hardships and the hatred. And though he was killed, he won. And we won. Humanity won.

Without a doubt, love impelled every aspect of Jesus’ leadership—love of God, love of others, love of good, love of Truth, as well as love of liberty. He freed people from mental and physical illness and from unjust laws. The gospel writers tell us that “he was moved with compassion,” so he healed the multitudes. He touched those who were not to be touched. He spoke to those who were not to be addressed. He dined with those considered sinners and lowly. He lifted up the weak and accursed. He, the master, washed his disciples feet when the custom was the reverse. He wouldn’t let the multitudes go hungry, so he fed them.

He did all of this and more because he loved. He lived and breathed Love. He loved in the face of hatred and persecution. He went through the crucifixion because he loved. To his followers, he said, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 NLT). Because of his leadership, his love, the world has been transformed and blessed.

Every great leader, impelled by love, has touched lives and blessed the world. But we don’t have to be a Washington or a Lincoln, let alone a Jesus. Those are rare individuals. But we can be great, loving leaders—leaders in our homes, churches, schools, communities, places of work, virtually anywhere we go. And we can help our friends and our children be great leaders as well. It all begins and lives with Love. Indeed, it cannot happen except it happen through Love.