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Study on Love-centered Leadership


"What does it take to measure the perception and practice of love-centered leadership in any company or organization?" is the basic question of my research. I am answering that question through four phases of research. The research also raises the question of the need for measuring the perception and practice of leading with love in any company or organization. I am answering these questions and sharing definitions used in the context of my research below. 

What is love-centered leadership?

For my research, I define love-centered leadership or leading with love as a leader choosing to or having the will to unconditionally, deliberately, decisively, and actively seek the follower’s highest good utilizing the leader’s emotional, intellectual, economic, and social assets in a self-sacrificial and loyal manner towards the follower, without compromising truth.

Others have defined it differently. Greg Baer defines leading with love as seeking others' welfare, freely sharing information, having an attitude of cooperation, and other criteria (Baer, 2007, p. 23). Caldwell and Dixon define leading with love as "the unconditional acts of respect, caring and kindness that communicate the worth of others and that promote their welfare, growth, and wholeness" (Caldwell & Dixon, 2009, p. 93). Ken Blanchard (2011), Colleen Barrett (2011), and Joel Manby (2012) looked at constructs from 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible to discuss what love-centered leadership is. Some others, such as Bryant (2011) and Hoyle (2001), define love as agape love, a mentioned in the Bible. Many researchers such as Mary Miller, Sigal Barsade, Shaun Sullivan, and Daniel Thomason have defined love in leadership in the context of their research.

The definition for my research that I have shared above comes from the idea of agape as defined in the Bible. I felt confident about using this Biblical definition for two reasons -

1. The leaders mentioned above and others have referred to Scriptural sources to understand how to show love and care to followers

2. The first recorded history of love-centered leadership is seen in politics in ancient Israel’s laws, under theocratic governance (Leviticus 19:9–11, 13–15, 16b, 17a, 18). 

On the idea of "highest good," Mary Miller's dissertation was the first source that I came across that helped me understand the concept of seeking another person's "greatest good" or "highest good." James Autry's book, Love and Profit, helped me understand how to seek another person's greatest good (pp. 29-31). Jesus told a story about loving another person by seeking their highest good (Luke 10:25-37). Through my definition and research, my hope is that there is a way to live out the personal philosophy of leading with love for any leader. 

Why should we measure the perception and practice of leading with love?

I am sharing below an excerpt from my dissertation proposal (unpublished) to answer the need for measuring the perception and practice of love in leadership.

In 1978, James Burns published his writing on transformational leadership and changed the emphasis in leadership studies from a leader’s traits to leadership outcomes. More than a decade later, James Autry (1991) published on love-centered leadership. While Burns focused on political leadership and community or national transformation, Autry focused on organizational leadership and employee outcome.

Following Autry (1991), other practitioners like Sanford (1998) and Manby (2012) have also contributed to this body of literature. Since the turn of the 21st century, starting with Howard (2003), numerous scholars have carried out research in love-centered leadership. In 2005, two scholars, Miller as well as Altman, completed their dissertation on love-centered leadership. In 2008, Brown completed her dissertation, a grounded exploration, on perceiving and communicating love in leader-follower interactions. In 2014, Ricciardi completed his dissertation on followers’ perceptions of love and its correlation to followers’ perceptions of leadership in a leader. The same year, Barsade and Neill (2014) carried out quantitative research on love-centered leadership in the healthcare industry, while Turkel (2014) published a theoretical paper on the subject. By 2019, other researchers such as Harper (2017), and Sullivan (2017), had completed their dissertation on love-centered leadership. Some others, such as Parry and Kempster (2013) and Foss, Eriksson, and Naden (2018), had published papers on love-centered leadership.

Further, while many practitioners, scholars, and researchers have published works on love-centered leadership, there is no agreement on the constructs and characteristics of love-centered leadership. The current study, in its first phase, will build consensus among a panel of experts in the field to determine the essential constructs and characteristics of love-centered leadership. Finally, the study will build an instrument to measure love-centered leadership.


By developing an instrument to measure love-centered leadership at the workplace, the study seeks to make a significant contribution towards research on love-centered leadership. Agape Love Leadership Assessment instrument will be useful for researchers who seek to quantitatively measure love-centered leadership for scholarship purposes. The study will also contribute towards workplace assessment of love-centered leadership for organizations and businesses committed towards care and concern of team members and customers. Companies such as Herschend Family Entertainment, which are committed to the ethics of loving team members, might find the instrument useful for organizational assessment. The instrument will further assist in measuring outcomes of love-centered leadership in diverse fields, such as the healthcare industry, classroom leadership, and organizational behavior studies. For organizations and educational institutes, such as Dallas Seminary, whose philosophy is love-centered leadership, the instrument will assist in measuring the perception and practice of love-centered leadership within the company or organization. (Patras, unpublished dissertation proposal, 2019).

How do we measure the perception and practice of leading with love?

I am going through four different phases to build an instrument to measure love in leadership. I am calling this instrument the Agape Love Leadership Assessment (ALLA) instrument. Building an instrument is ‘creative and technical’ (Colton & Covert, 2007, p. xii). In the steps below, you will see creativity and mathematical tools being used.

In Phase I, I went through leadership literature to identify all the constructs and characteristics of love. Upon completion of this phase, I found over 550 constructs and characteristics of love-centered leadership. I paired these down to 99 constructs and characteristics for the Delphi study. 

I am in the middle of Phase 2 of the study. Phase 2 is a Delphi study to build consensus on these constructs and characteristics. At least 25-panel members were needed for this Delphi study. The criteria for panel members were leaders who have contributed to the study of love-centered leadership through their published works or research and leaders recommended by others for practicing love-centered leadership. The Delphi study's goal is to build a consensus on the 99 constructs and characteristics I have identified through literature, along with any other characteristics introduced by the panel members in the study. 

In Phase 3, principal components analysis (PCA) will be carried out for all the characteristics that had a consensus in the Delphi study.  Creativity will be used to reword the characteristics for self-rating. For example, in the Delphi study, if the statement "Love-centered leaders encourage their employees to have a good work-life balance" had consensus as a characteristic of love in leadership, then it will be converted into a statement like, "I encourage my employees to have a good work-life balance." Factors that are extracted from PCA will be used to build the instrument.

In Phase 4, the newly built instrument will be tested to see if this is a reliable tool for measuring love in leadership and also to see if it really measures love in leadership (validity testing). I hope that at a future time, I can, or someone else will modify ALLA to be a 360-degree assessment to understand a company's climate to help leaders who are committed to leading with love. Converting ALLA into a 360-degree assessment will only require rewording the instrument for the rater and then carrying out reliability and validity testing for the reworded instrument to rate the leader. 

If you have any other research-related questions, such as why I am using PCA instead of exploratory factor analysis or definitions of other terms, please contact me, and I will get back to you. 

Shalini Patras

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