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Leadership: what's love got to do with it?

| by Robert Gassman

“Love and truth form a good leader; sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.” (Proverbs 20:28, The Message)  Paul further urges in Ephesians 4:15 that “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head…” (NIV)

A fundamental aspect of effective, high-impact biblical leadership may therefore be described as “loving integrity.” This is a simple concept that great leaders demonstrate truth and love as they guide, support, empower and develop the people they lead.

At this point, you may be thinking, What does ‘love’ have to do with leadership outside the church world, especially in the practical world of business? That’s a fair question. With that in mind, let’s dive a little deeper in dissecting these two elements—truth and love—for their relevance and implications, as well as for how each can and should fit into the leadership realm.

Truth and love in biblical leadership

Truth in leadership is the correct and honest application of principles, information and ideas, all handled with clarity, boldness and confidence. However, it is not about the leader being harsh, terse, blunt, humiliating or offensive, and never should preclude the leader showing respect, dignity, kindness and compassion to others.

Love in leadership is about being aware of and focusing on others’ needs and interests while pursuing the broader organizational goals and objectives. It encompasses respect, sensitivity, compassion and kindness as evidenced in the leaders' words, deeds and decisions. However, love should not be emotional, dismissive, soft, vacillating or irresponsible, and must never ignore, diminish or wash over truth or accountability for anyone's behavior and performance.

Within this context, love can be understood as more of a decision and deliberate action rather than a feeling or emotion. To love people in their charge, leaders authentically care for and look out for them, and act on others’ behalf with their best interests in mind.

How to maintain both truth and love

When it comes to truth and love, a leader must not compromise one element for the sake of the other.

Truth without love could indicate a leader’s lack of sensitivity, humility, and decency. Without love, truth may come across as hard, heartless, rigid, impersonal, offensive, insensitive, judgmental and prideful. That kind of truth becomes nothing more than a cold, hard reality to which recipients likely will be non-receptive and unresponsive. And in the end, a leader who projects truth without love risks acting like a mean-spirited bully.

“Truth without love is brutality…” —Warren W. Wiersbe

“The man who is brutally honest enjoys the brutality quite as much as the honesty. Possibly more.”  —Sir Richard Needham

On the other hand, love without truth could feel like a soft, empty, directionless emotion. It may come across as insincere, inconsistent, shallow, confusing, unhelpful, hypocritical, erroneous and simply dishonest. Love without truth can dilute and soften reality, render your feedback and direction useless, and ultimately lower the standards within an organization.

Ironically, a leader who withholds, delays, dances around or merely shades the truth for any reason—especially in pursuit of “being liked” or “just being nice”—actually may be acting in unkind, harmful, cowardly and self-serving ways. Doing so could actually indicate a leader’s lack of character and accountability while failing to truly serve, benefit and advance the other person.

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws.”  —Timothy Keller

“…Love without truth is hypocrisy.”  —Warren W. Wiersbe

Seeking balance between truth and love

So we return to this article’s opening Bible passages and my initial assertion that great leaders demonstrate truth and love in how they lead. To bring this all together, I share two basic summary thoughts as my guiding recommendations:

• Leaders must possess the right stuff. Great leaders operate from the right heart (character, attitude, mindset), adhere to the right principles (legal, ethical, moral as well as solid practices), build the right relationships (healthy, appropriate, beneficial, accountable), and pursue the right outcomes (personal growth and development, organizational and individual goal attainment, fulfillment of vision and purpose) for and with those they lead and serve.

• Leaders must adhere to the ABC’s of balancing truth and love. Great leaders consistently demonstrate Appreciation with Accountability, Benevolence with Boldness, and Compassion with Candor (and Consequences) in leading and serving others.

Leaders who act simultaneously with truth and love can uniquely empower and help transform individuals and organizations by demonstrating the “loving integrity” that communicates, confronts, corrects and praises constructively and effectively.

Great leaders strive to balance the dual elements of truth and love to ensure that the people being led have access to what they really need. This way they can perform to expectations and standards, develop and grow to the best of their abilities, and pursue their full potential—not just as employees, but as human beings, and in ways that God intends and desires. And that lies at the heart of what biblical leadership should be about.

Robert Gassman

Rob Gassman currently serves as President of Precision Products, LLC, a regional technology firm that provides hardware, software and knowledge-based solutions for specialized geospatial and UAV applications. He has guided several organizations—both as an internal leader and an outsourced consultative adviser—through periods of rapid development, dramatic transformation and high growth, and has successfully led multiple organizations through the processes that culminated in strategic business acquisitions.

Rob earned his undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Finance from the University of Louisville, and Master of Arts in Management and MBA from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. A native of Louisville, he attends Southeast Christian Church with Terry, his wife of 33 years. He and Terry are proud and honored to be parents to three children, “parents-in-law” to two great sons-in-law, and grandparents to three beautiful grandchildren.

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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