Don’t Confuse Loving With Following

Just because I love and admire you, doesn’t mean I will follow you.

Don't Confuse Loving With Following

Feelings and emotions will deceive us. This is especially true when it comes to “love.” And it can be dangerous when it comes to how we view our leaders. What a shame. Especially when they can be so strong and so certain at the time. Emotions, such as the ones we experience in a loving relationship, that are unbridled can cause us to make some very poor decisions. Emotions are not bad. In fact, just look at some studies in the area of Emotional Intelligence and you will quickly see that emotions play a significant role in our personal and professional lives.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Love is a wonderful thing. And love is a great filter through which we need to view the world. However, love can cause us to overlook or make excuses for failures and shortcomings when it comes to our leaders.

Many organizations have leaders who are beloved. I have witnessed this over the years many times. And it is very common in the non-profit world where I do a lot of coaching. In the nonprofit world, you will find leaders who are often in leadership roles for which they are not particularly suited or gifted.

These leaders are frequently appointed or even elected to their positions. As followers, we do this as a way of showing how much we love this particular person. What can possibly go wrong with that?

Here is what can, and quite often does, go wrong. 

  1. We become comfortable with the familiar — Over time our love for our leaders makes us more and more comfortable with who they are. We know them. They know us. And that familiarity brings us a great deal of comfort.
    The Drawback — We know longer have enough objectivity to look at them and evaluate their performance as a leader. This is dangerous. We can easily end up following someone who is unable to lead us when times get tough.
  2. We overemphasize potential and ignore prior performance — Love is optimistic by nature. Love hopes for and believes that the best is yet to come. We may have had bad days. But good days are coming. Let’s forget about the past and look to the future.
    The Drawback — “What’s past is prologue” is a quote from The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Although the original context of that line has to deal with Antonio and Sebastian contemplating murder, the contemporary understanding of that phrase is that it stands for the idea that history (past performance, past experience, or past failure) sets the context for the present situation in which we find ourselves. We ignore the past performance of our leaders at great peril when we consider their leadership potential for the future.
  3. We ultimately cease to follow — Here is the crux of this article. Loving is not the same thing as following. But, if leaders can’t or won’t lead, then will slowly cease to follow them. We can love the living daylights out of someone and yet not follow them.
    The Drawback — There are really two drawbacks in this instance. For the leader, they never get the kind of constructive (and loving) feedback that they need to develop to their greatest potential. And for the follower, their love blinds them and they never get to experience what it is like to follow a great leader. This also affects the entire organization because it prevents them from seeking the skills of a real leader for fear that they will lose the relationship of love with their current leader.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

Here is the point. These kinds of leaders really aren’t leading. And we really aren’t following. We are merely along for a walk. We may have given up or we maybe just don’t care anymore. We have stopped trying to help or influence the leader. Or we have lost hope. Or maybe some have never seen real leadership so we just don’t know what that looks like or feels like from our “follower perspective.”

As leaders we need to make sure that we are reaching far beyond those closest to us and who love us no matter what we think or do in order to get the kind of feedback and analysis of our leadership abilities. We must go to where it will be uncomfortable. We must go to where we may be challenged. If we stay in the safety and security of those who just love us and think everything we do is great, we will never have an opportunity to get a viewpoint that has some emotional distance.

How about you. Are you willing to step outside of your inner circle of love and get some feedback that just may not be blinded by that very same love? It is an extraordinary leader that will be willing to do that.

Be an extraordinary leader.

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.