As I stepped into the meeting area with twenty-five people of varying ages, life experiences, and impeccable skills, my responsibility as their leader quickly became a daunting reality. Despite my nervousness and fake attempts to convey confidence, my first day as their new leader was a success. Through the many success and failures in my leadership that followed, I learned that leadership is more than just managerial but also relational. How a person leads his or her group is based on the type of relationship they have with those who follow them. While it is possible to have the respect of your followers by leading through fear, the more effective leader is one who is respected and loved. Fear and intimidation can be an effective tool in leadership, but it only produces short term results and is ultimately ineffective in achieving fruitful loyalty. A leader is an influencer and has the responsibility to not only produce results through those who follow him or her but also to produce results in those members of the organization. As followers of Jesus Christ, whether we lead through fear or love we must ultimately be reconciled with how our Lord modeled leadership.
History books and our modern world are rife with examples of leadership that is defined and driven by the fear of those who follow. Just in the first half of the twenty-century, leaders like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin give us perfect examples of tyrannical leadership that was effective on a massive scale. But many hundreds of years before these two men inspired and led many of their followers to victory and doom, a man named Niccolò Machiavelli defined a humanist ideology of leadership in his work The Prince. In a work that was feared and labeled evil for its seemingly promotion of immoral acts in politics, The Prince’s most famous quote in reference to leadership is “Better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” Machiavelli would seem to value love and fear in leadership but if only one can exists fear is the more coveted quality to produce greater results. Based on Machiavelli’s humanist worldview where love is an internally based fickle feeling and success is determined only by measurable metrics, I would agree that fear is preferable over love. But the Christian worldview defines a different reality where love is the highest value, fear is not divine, and success cannot be conclusively determined by power and products. Fear based leadership is attractive because it can produce short term results. In my own personal experience I have worked alongside leaders who needed to produce results quickly and used fear tactics and threats to motivate their followers. At the end of the day it produced results but at the end of the year fear yielded disdain and disloyalty. The follower who fears his leader produces when the leader is present. The follower who loves his leader produces even when their leader is absent.
How one defines and values love will determine the importance a person places on it in their leadership. If like Machiavelli, you are a humanist, then you will view love as an imbalanced emotion in which people fall in and out of. On the other hand, if you define love from a biblical worldview, love is the highest quality and originates from the Creator. From a mind that is informed and shaped by Scripture, the leader who receives and demonstrates love to his or her followers is truly successful. Jesus taught and modeled many counter-cultural ideas in Scripture, one of which that had a great impact on his followers was servant leadership. Servant leadership compels the leader to define success in more than just power and products but also in their people. It is the responsibility of the servant leader to develop things like passion, leadership, loyalty, and service in their followers by personally modeling these qualities. The results of leadership that seeks to gain the love of its followers achieves lasting influence. This influence will motivate the leader and the follower to work together to see success not only in their corporative mission but also in each other.
As I continued to develop as a leader of those twenty-five people, I soon began to understand that my most powerful tool or greatest weakness would be the relationships I built with my co-laborers. As I demonstrated respect and loyalty toward them, the more they desired to see me succeed in my leadership. My team was successful in achieving the company’s metrics but as a leader I was successful in influencing them beyond the time clock.