Extracting Gems for Leaders from 1 Corinthians 13 We Are Called to Love
Love is the heart of great leadership. Like most leaders, I am busy. If I’m not careful, sometimes I get too busy to stop and let the people I lead know that I care for them as people, not just as team members. That’s dangerous. Leaders are called to love.
Thus we need tools to help us measure our capacity to love. There is no better way than to examine the timeless passage in the Bible from 1 Corinthians to guide us to higher ground in this important aspect of leadership.
Love’s Place in Leadership
Love? Many think of leadership as tough, crass, and cold. Don’t leaders have to be strong, bold, and direct? We may think caring for others will make us pushovers—mushy, gooey putty! Not true. You can love others and still be direct and strong and bold.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a person who espouses military leadership. He was sharing with me the concept of discipline and clarity of commands. As I calmly listened to the bravado, I asked him, “If you were to ask soldiers about what makes a great leader, what would they say? What makes a soldier follow a commander on the field, even to their death?”
Sun Tzu, the 6th century BC Chinese military commander and philosopher, addressed this very question saying, “Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.”
Sun Tzu knew it then. Beloved, he says. Deeply caring for others will mark you as a great leader. Jesus placed love as the pinnacle of all the important virtues. He said to love God and love your neighbor. He also said if you are to be a leader, you must be a servant of all.
The answer, I told my friend, is deeply caring for your soldiers. Even in a military context, even under all the toughness and crudeness and yelling and blood…it is love that makes people follow their leader.
Love is a must if we are to be great leaders of people. But what does healthy love look like? How can we measure ourselves against the high standards of love? 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well known passages in the Bible. If you have not read this passage before, I encourage you to do so. It gives us the answer.
In a spiritual context, this passage says that love is more important than faith, more important than speaking in the tongues of angels, more important than one giving all they have to the poor, or one knowing all knowledge and mysteries. In the context of leadership, love is also more important than almost anything else we do. When we love our people, everything else will fall into place.
As you read this list, taken word for word from the Bible, I invite you to reflect on your leadership of those closest to you. Do you have these qualities? To what extent? I also will ask the same of myself.
- Love is patient. Leaders must be patient and understanding.
- Love is kind. Leaders must not use their positions to wield authority with blustery, cutting words.
- It does not envy. Leaders must elevate people. They should not be threatened by the success of others.
- It does not boast. Leaders should boast of the successes of their people rather than their own success.
- It is not proud. Leaders must lead others in humility.
- It does not dishonor others. Leaders must honor people. Always.
- It is not self-seeking. Leaders must serve others, not themselves nor their own agendas.
- It is not easily angered. Leaders must have control of their emotions. They should not be quick to anger.
- It keeps no record of wrongs. Leaders must help others when they fall, not berate them, or keep a tally of people’s failures.
- Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Leaders must not partake in evil or permit it on their teams.
- It always protects. Leaders must protect their people the way parents protect their children.
- Always trusts. Leaders must believe the best of their people and trust them.
- Always hopes. Leaders must be positive about their people and their mission.
- Always perseveres. Leaders must not give up on people even when the going gets tough.
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