leadership goodness

“You are a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”

The conversation coming from the group at the far end of the coffee shop had kept getting louder and louder. Everyone knew they were talking about immigration.

The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the spirited debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.

I’d recently been involved in a similar but way less passionate discussion regarding leadership, i.e., that my conversation partner believed the best ones kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy, that they’re both tough and tender.

Why are caring and connection so threatening?

Time for research.

I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.

Machiavelli’s words about fear—that it was more reliable because it can be “maintained by dread of punishment, which never fails” and that “it was safer to be feared than loved” popped up several places.

Safer. Fascinating word choice. Machiavelli didn’t say fear was better than love, just safer.

Funny how a single word can unlock a whole new line of pondering. What is unsafe about caring?

Expressing love makes us vulnerable—we have to get close; fear can be elicited from a distance.

Detachment doesn’t ask for an emotional investment, empathy does.

Reaching out is harder and riskier than walking away.

Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices, though. We really need them both, no matter what we’re doing in life, love, and leadership.

Context matters.

Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need the boot in the bottom, other times it’s warm hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, choosing not to be ugly towards those who see things differently.

How do we learn to not default to fear but rather to first seek to understand and then do what’s right for the situation?

I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab that helped me answer that question:

Those who truly wish to be leaders in an age of discontent—not merely its demagogues, bullies, hecklers, and tyrants—will have to turn reject and refuse ruling through fear, and toward leading with love.


Leading through love means overcoming the ever-present temptation to abuse and belittle people, to guilt and shame them, to mock and taunt them — to force them into line.


It means creating the conditions for them to grow into following the principles that you espouse. It means not just arguing tendentiously with nor patronizingly explaining to people things that they are not ready to, equipped to, nor prepared to understand, but putting faith in people — even those who damn you — first, always, everywhere.

Wow. Those are some powerful thoughts on getting right with fear and love.

After reading Umair’s words, I thought about the fellas in the coffee shop and my colleague and I.

In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All we all were doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy.

To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to either fear or love, it’s necessary to:

  • Respect other’s right to think, feel, and act differently.
  • Accept that we’re not always right.
  • Not allow evil and hatred to make us numb to what’s good, paraphrasing Henry Adam’s remark that evil is done by those who think they are doing good.
  • Be mindful when words and phrases like either/or, should, or need to be control our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Assure we’re practicing both logic and emotion as we chart our lives.

My promise to myself: to replace my wagging finger with grace and aim for creating a reaction chain of goodness.

Image credit before quote added: Pixabay




Please stay in touch with us: