Copyright © Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL 2021

April 22, 2021

Serving is a choice.

"Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living." Albert Einstein

I met Melissa in the summer of 1983 at a teenager retreat. We spent a lot of time together with the other teenagers and alone with each other during the retreat. We became quite fond of one another. We lived several hundred miles from one another. We ended our time together, wanting more of a relationship. Melissa wrote me a letter a month later she had decided there is no future for our relationship. She planned to spend some of her college years in both the United States and France. She did not see a way we could grow our relationship with distance.

I cried for an hour after I read the letter. I knew she was 100% correct. She had much more intelligence than me, much more class than me, and her family was much more wealthy than mine. There were no viable means to grow our relationship. I ran into her several months later, unexpectedly. Our conversation was awkward. We wanted to continue our relationship, but the spark was gone. I have not talked with her or seen her since that day.

Melissa served both me and us with her leadership demonstrated in her letter. She considered the facts, made a choice, and communicated herself well. Her efforts form the basis for a successful leadership strategy.

Consider the attributes of this story. Then, consider how your people, the followers of your leadership, are wondering how to grow a relationship with you. Who makes the first move? Who makes the next move? How will these moves be made? Oh, and there is accomplishing the work they are being paid to do.

I shared in-depth recently about love. I also shared leading by serving is a formal leadership style. I shared over the past several weeks how leaders I identified have demonstrated love to their followers, along with those outside of their organization. If things went well for you this past week, then you are wondering now how to deliver love to your followers. If things did not go well for you last week, then you are wondering now if loving your followers is worth the hassle. Let's talk about the second item first, and then we will cover the first item.


I see there are three options when it comes to relating to people. The first option is to love them. The second option is to hate them. The final option is to care less about them. This final option may be considered to be a form of hate, but I identify it as a form of ambivalence. It is not a form of apathy.

If I know my leader hates me, then there is no point in my trying to follow them. I may be forced to follow them, but I will not perform at my best potential to deliver my work. It seems to me this combination is an inescapable attribute of humanity.

If I know my leader is unsure of either their love or hatred for me, then I am thinking the day will come when they chose to either love or hate me. I will wonder which option they will choose with more and more thought devoted to this wondering until the day comes when they make their choice. I will not focus entirely on my work, as I will have part of my attention direct elsewhere. It seems to me this combination is an inescapable attribute of humanity.

If I know neither hatred nor ambivalence empowers my followers to work fully to accomplish their work, then it makes sense to me the only viable option is to love them. I know of no credible evidence where I should conserve love. Conserve, in the form of holding back at some point. I may be too tired to give love, but this condition is a call to rest instead of a call not to give love. If I want the best return for my investment of time, money, and perhaps even a bit of social status, then it makes sense to me to maximize my investment of love into my followers so they will have the best potential to deliver to me the work I ask them, and perhaps am even paying them, to accomplish.


A relationship involves two or more people. If I have thousands of people in my organization, then it is impossible to spend individual time with each other them. I must work with my direct reports to accomplish loving all followers of my leadership. I must instruct, model, and require my direct reports to love their direct reports, all the way to the lowest level of the organization. This step is what I call a mandate.

Next, I must know my direct reports are doing what I mandate of them. I must go to those at different levels in my organization and ask them individually to tell me their understanding of the mandate to understand what I required in my mandate is being accomplished. Talking in person is better. Talking by video is better than only audio. However, audio talking is better than not talking. It is more effective to go to the middle of the organization first, then the bottom when having these talks. This approach gives me accurate first-hand findings quite quickly. This step is what I call a measurement.

Talking with someone

Next, I take any corrective action necessary to match what I mandated with what I measured to eliminate any variance. This action occurs speedily over a day or so. This step is what I call a demand.

If any of my direct reports disagree with my leadership, then it is best either I change my leadership, or they cease reporting to me. I am willing to discuss how I accomplish my work. I am not willing to discuss what I mandate. A mandate is derived by what I know must happen to preserve the organization, to grow it, and perhaps even turn it over to another leader at some future date. I know a mandate by the intersection of my worldview, my ethics, and my morals.

So, how about the followers? There must be enough of an intersection between leader and follower in their worldview, ethics, and morality for them to be able to accomplish the work in their hand. The best practices of both diversity and inclusion tell me I have a better chance of success with as much input as I can receive. Yes, there is a condition known as analysis paralysis. This condition is when a person cannot act on their work because they are taking in too many considerations. We covered this condition when we discussed being scared. The inputs never stop. So, it is best to have as diverse a follower set as I can have in my organization to ensure I have the most inputs possible. Furthermore, I had better love each of them if I expect each of them to be included in my organization by their choosing to do the work I have put into their hand.

Talking again with someone


It is my considered position my loving anyone is a choice I must make daily. I must choose to make myself indebted to love. I do not force anyone to love me. It is impossible to achieve this action, so there is no reason to try and do it.

The idea here is to have a continuous conversation that matters. Matters, in the form of contributing productively to the desired outcome. It is spending the time talking about what organization members are supposed to be talking about: their work. Then, the purposeful conversations occur at all levels of the organization.

A continuous conversation


Now, it is time to write out your action plan to know with certainty how you are going to lead your followers by means of love. Review the material we covered in our discussion on the topic of love. Then, write out a table with the following structure:

Column One, HOW. Write a sentence of how you will deliver love to your followers.

Column Two, STORGE. This column is populated with entries of YES or NO based on HOW you deliver love.

Column Three, PHILIA. This column is populated with entries of YES or NO based on HOW you deliver love.

Column Four, EROS. This column is populated with entries of YES or NO based on HOW you deliver love.

Column Five, AGAPE. This column is populated with entries of YES or NO based on HOW you deliver love.

Love Action Items List

This table now contains your Love Action Items list.

You should be able to write out twenty sentences of HOW you will deliver love without expending much effort. I encourage you to keep each sentence as short as possible while maintaining your clarity. Write out the HOW entries first, then come back and identify which love definition each HOW item matches. The result is each row in your table telling a specific action, matched with one or more specific love definitions, for anyone impacted by your leadership to understand your leadership style better. If you need some help with the HOW part, then read some of the work accomplished by Gary Chapman. Chapman realized there are five common love communication mechanisms.

My strategic partner David Daniels shared with me his thoughts on forming the Love Action Items list. "I have always welcomed different points of view, as long as they came from a positioning of the organization's values and mission. However, once a decision was made, I fully expected my team to embrace and support the direction. I have watched so many situations where leadership gave the appearance of support to the leader and then went out and trashed the direction or lent unenthusiastic support of it." I agree with David's viewpoint. It is best to write your Love Action Items list from the position your people changes may involve changing some of your people who report to you directly, whether or not they serve as leaders.

Your analysis of your table containing your Love Action Items list will help you plan to deliver love to your followers. The best news is your followers will know how you are planning to act, know instantly how your actions match your plan, and be empowered to contribute to your table by adding rows as you approve. The key here is your HOW items need to be received by your followers, and your followers HOW items need to be received by you.

Now, some good news. The four types of love expressed through five different options work out to be 465 different combination options. Clearly, there is no shortage of options available to anyone desiring to love anyone. Do some reading on permutations and combinatorics to learn more about combinations. Remember, the leader-follower relationship must work in harmony and not be forced to be effective. We will discuss the work you accomplished with your Love Action Items list next week.

So, I ask you: where do you want to go? I hope your answer is to develop the plans necessary to accomplish the strategy you know you need to achieve to arrive at your desired destination. If this is the case, then let's get to work. If not, then I wish you the best of everything.

I hope we will see each other here next week. Email me if you need to talk before then.

Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL
Executive Strategy Consultant

Stephen Dawson is an executive consultant of technology and business strategy, serving significant international organizations by providing leadership consulting, strategic planning, and executive communications. He has more than thirty years of service and consulting experience in delivering successful international business development and program management outcomes in the US and SE Asia. His weekly column, "Where Do You Want To Go?," appears on Thursdays.

Dr. Dawson has served in the technology, banking, and hospitality industries. He is a noted strategic planning visionary. His pursuit of music has been matched with his efforts to lead by service to followers. He holds the clear understanding a leader without followers is a person taking a long walk alone.

Stephen has lived his life in the eastern United States, visiting most of the United States and several countries. He is a graduate of the Regent University School of Business & Leadership. Contact him at