A fundemental tenet of my book, The Citizen Leader, is that citizenship challenges us to participate in efforts to better our communities and improve life for all — that we earn the right to call ourselves active citizens when we contribute to the communites where we live, work, play and pray.
Let me follow and add that our willingness to act, and by extension our willingness to contribute to the world around us at all, is linked directly to our feeling and beliefs about our communities. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher and advocate of self-reliance and personal initiative, reminds us: nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. So, as we look at our potential and capacity to be active citizens in our communities, let us focus on our enthusiasm and the source of our enthusiasm — the source that prompts us and fuels us to take action and make meaningful contributions. That source is love — love for the people of our community, and love for our place and purpose in it.
Our topic is love.
When leadership experts and bestselling authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner began their research for their highly acclaimed and widely read book, The Leadership Challenge, they came across then U.S. Major General John Stanford. They write that this was a man who was a highly decorated veteran of multiple military tours in Korea and Vietnam, and who headed up the Military Traffic Management Command for the U.S. Army during the first Gulf War in 1991. When he retired form the military, he went on to become the superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools where he sparked a very positive revolution in public education. As Kouzes and Posner write:
All that we learned of John’s public service was impressive, but it was his answer to one of our interview questions that most influenced our own understanding of leadership. We asked John how he’d go about developing leaders, whether in colleges and universities, in the military, in government, in the nonprofit sector, or in private business. He replied,
“When anyone asks me that question, I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to ignite other people, to see inside other people, the have greater desire to get things done that other people. A person who is not in love doesn’t really feel the kind of excitement that help them get ahead and to lead others and to achieve. I don’t know any other fire, and other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive a feeling than love is.”
Kouzes and Posner elegantly conclude:
Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting. It’s hard to imagine leaders getting up day after day, putting in the long hours and hard work it takes to get extraordinary things done, without having their hearts in it. The best-kept secret of success leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce and with those who honor the organization by using is products and services.
Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.
Our topic is love.
In his recently released book, Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, John Izzo recalls an interview with a bank CEO whose responses echoed the same sentiment. Izzo talks about meeting Jimmy Blanchard who was, at the time of the interview, CEO of Synovus which had just been named the best of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. Izzo writes:
When I asked him the bank’s secret and why it might have been named the best company to work for in America, he offered a simple reason:
It is the power of love. We are successful because we love each other and we love our customers…it’s that simple.
Conclusion: Lovers are the better leaders.