Love and leadership are both forms of divine madness.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, a dialogue on love and writing, the philosopher Socrates explains different forms of insanity, zeroing in on divine madness. Love is a divine madness, and so is creative imagination. “Madness, provided it comes as the gift from heaven, is the channel by which we receive the greatest blessings,” says Socrates. Creative imagination is the genesis of a leader’s vision – the thought that something better could exist. Examples of this are a better society, an improved financial situation for a failing company, a digital machine that solves life’s great problems, or the end of world hunger.
Inspired and lasting leadership requires that touch of divine madness. In fact, most of history’s greatest leaders were at least a little crazy – touched by divine madness. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, and other world-changing leaders exhibited resilience, realism, empathy, and creativity. Seeing and understanding all the injustices and hardships in the world may have taken them to some dark and twisted place – perhaps the edge of divine madness — but it also inspired them to change things, to bring about the unimaginable but beautiful realities they envisioned and to have the courage to do act.
Intense love and great leadership implies passion.
Passion is defined as having, compelled by, or ruled by intense emotion or strong feeling. In On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis offers the notion that vision, passion, integrity, curiosity, and daring are found in most great leaders. Intense love inspires passion. Passion inspires leaders.
My hairdresser Peggy loves doing hair. She is passionate about her work. With that passion, she’s able to work long hours on her feet doing what she loves. Her passion is infectious and she taught generations of aspiring stylists how to create art from hair. Passion inspires leaders to do the impossible and the improbable.
Love is self-less and so is the servant leader.
The servant-leader believes in responding to the needs of others before her own and she does the work necessary to identify those needs – even if that requires stepping into their shoes. In Divine Moments for Leaders, Ronald Beers writes about the practice of “downward mobility” (or being willing to perform the most menial tasks) as a way to grow as a leader.
Robert Greenleaf, founder of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, elaborates on this management concept in his essay, “Servant as Leader.” He explains:
[Leadership] begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. The best test is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit or at least, not be further deprived?
Greenleaf says that the truly great leader is, at heart, a servant first. He sacrifices himself for the needs of those he serves. Mother Teresa was such a servant. She believed that for “a sacrifice to be real, it must cost, must hurt, [and we] must empty ourselves.” As she once explained, “The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace.” And in her lifetime, she led a ministry that served millions.