Bryant on Love Leadership: What It Is, And What I Am Not…

April, 2011

Bahamas to Atlanta 010

What I am not -- is perfect.  

This may not sound like much of a news flash, but sometimes I think people have the wrong impression of what I mean by "Love Leadership."  So much so that, sometimes I actually wonder whether they did in fact read the book. 

This said, I also know that most people genuinely do have good intentions, so I thought I would take the time to expound on exactly what Love Leadership is, and what it is not.  And of course, as Love Leadership is also my personal story, how this relates to me as a person, as well.

The world we live in seems to always be in search of a sense of near perfection from our leaders, and leadership. More so, in times of fear, as we are experiencing today, we also seek heroes and sheroes to aspires to, and whom we often then seek to transfer, transmit and project our highest expectations and aspirations onto.  Not only is this an unhealthy approach to life, and impractical in the same breath, it is also not even a good strategy for our individual, group or societal success.

By separating someone out as so-called "perfect," we isolate them from the masses of humanity who know they are all too human.  And so, the wise man may embody the image of "perfect," and I might even admire that, but in reality you and I cannot really relate to that.  


"A saint is a sinner that got up." Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faithful Central Church, Los Angeles, California.  


To put it bluntly, I am a sinner, doing the best that I can to be God's child, and to do the right thing. Sometimes I hit the mark, and often I fall short, but always I try.

And so, just like with God's Redemption, about the best we can expect from anyone, and surely from me, is to "respond well" in crisis.  That does not mean that, when approached with pain, fear or disappointment, I can guarantee that I will be the most appropriate or polite individual you have ever met. Fact is, when people get cut they sometimes scream.

What it means is that ultimately, when given an opportunity, I will do my best to do the right thing. That is the Love Leadership guarantee.  


"The greatest sin in the world is not to do bad.  All men will do bad, thus all men will sin.  The greatest sin in the world is not to do good, when you could."  A businessman in Vienna, Austria.


I believe that the definition of leadership is one who "emerges in response to crisis."  

In other words, leaders are not the ones who necessarily went to all the right schools, or even those who have the formal titles of leadership, but those who when having the weight of the world thrown at them, "responded well."

I say in Love Leadership that "courage is nothing more than your faith reaching through your fear, displaying itself as action in your life."  In other words, we don't necessarily live, love and grow because of, we actually live, love and grow in spite of.  In spite of the fact that the world is not fair, people may not treat you right, and things may not sort out the way you like.  Said another way, quoting my friend Fred D. Smith from Love Leadership, "the key to life is successfully managing pain; the pain we create for ourselves, and the pain visited upon us by others." 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as an excellent example of Love Leadership, became a leader "in response" to the crisis of the civil rights movement in the late 1950's. He would be the first to admit, I believe, that he wasn't looking to lead, and did not even feel ready to lead, and he had many, many doubts -- but still he stepped up and did the right thing; and the world is better because of it.

Think about it -- if Dr. King had not "responded well" to the call for enlightened and courageous leadership, in the midst of crisis and uncertainty, he probably would have gone down in history as yet another well-educated theologian, that pastored a distinguished and respectable church in the South (which, I might add, is not a bad legacy in and of itself).

"Life is 10% what life does to you, and 90% how you choose to respond to it."  

Life is all in the response. And this issue of "life's response" -- to fear, crisis, selfishness, and a world obsessed with greed and "what do I get" -- is the principle question asked, and the question I seek to answer, in my Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling book Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass)  

For those who have read it, you will recognize immediately that the first thing I do is to admit my own failings, shortcomings and transgressions.  

The times over 18 years in founding, building and running Operation HOPE and other enterprises, that I screamed at staff, friends and loved ones, in times of stress and pressure.  

The times I over-reached, and over-reacted.

The times I was wracked by fear.  

The times I was tempted to blame my problems on others.  

I am not proud of these moments, but they are part of me and my life's journey, and frankly, part of what makes me who I am today.

The common thread in all of this is, I admitted both the good and the bad in my life.

I assumed total and complete responsibility for all that happened in my life.

And finally, I staked out a path that moved me and those around me, forward.  

That did not mean that the answer was pretty, or even that most people agreed with me.  Frankly, there have been many decisions that I have made over the course of my life that people I respect disagreed with.  Some probably still do.  But leadership is not a popularity contest.  

You are going to have disagreements, and as long as the objective is growth, and not stripping the other of their dignity, this could be a very good and healthy thing for all involved.

"There is no growth without legitimate suffering."

The fact is, Operation HOPE is still here, and in the midst of the worst economic crisis in 100 years we are in many ways stronger than ever.  

The fact is, most of my senior management team have been with me for 10 years or longer, with the shortest tenure being 4 years plus.  That says something, and at a hard charging non-profit organization, nonetheless. 

When something happens at Operation HOPE, and most particularly when that thing is negative or bad news, over the more than 18 years of our history as an organization, the first person that my board of directors hears from, is me.  No surprises, and no hiding the ball.

As a result, they may have to worry about other things, but they don't have to worry about my integrity, or whether I am just feeding them just good news.  And this confidence to lead (combined with audited financials I might add - smile) in return gives me the cover to allow the organizat
ion to execute on its business plan. 


In 2009, our revenue budget experienced a 50% growth to plan, and in 2010, Operation HOPE experienced a 70% growth to plan, while managing expenses to plan, and delivering real help to real people, in the middle of the world's first true global economic crisis.  This is Love Leadership in action.

It is in times like these where admitting that you are not perfect (which everyone knows already by the way) is actually an advantage in this world.   

For those who have a continuing interest on the topic of "conquering your fears," check out my Twitter Feed from earlier today at!/johnhopebryant.

Onward with HOPE


John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama














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