Real Leaders Love Their Enemies

February 23, 2010

It’s relatively easy to love our friends at work, those purposeful actors that struggle with us to build something bigger and better than ourselves. Our friends provide us safe harbor when the storms of work roll in.

But real leaders love their enemies.

Recall my very specific definition of enemies: anyone that consistently puts their own self-interest ahead of the shared purpose. Because we have to take a stand against these folks that disregard our purpose, our enemies define our leadership.

Enemies are an integral part of our purposeful pursuit. Instead of bemoaning enemies, we should anticipate them and prepare to embrace their continual presence in our lives. We certainly don’t want to destroy them, and we can’t allow them to destroy us.

Here are 8 ways that leaders can develop the capacity to love their enemies:

1.Confrontation. We don’t do either our enemies or ourselves any favors by ignoring their destructive behavior. We have to have the courage to say what we think and fight for what we believe in.

2. Respect. We respect our enemies by telling them the truth to their face. We should not feel compelled to hold our tongues in public about the behavior we object to, but our enemies need to hear it first from us in person.

3. Restraint. When our enemies do not show us the same respect that we show them, we have to resist our strong desire to retaliate or express our anger.

4. Kindness. One of the hardest things we have to do as leaders is to care about people that don’t care about us. We are never relieved of that responsibility. Despise the behavior, but never the person.

5. Assistance. We don’t dump on our enemies by telling them “this sucks, so do you, and you better change it – or else!” We have to see ourselves as a resource for our enemies to find their way to more purposeful behavior.

6. Patience. Change is hell. Our enemies will probably not change as fast as we want them to. Empathize and endure.

7. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. We must forgive our enemies for who they were and what they did to us out of respect for their courage to try to change.

8. Humility. Win our lose, it’s not about us, it’s always about the purpose. Relationships will need to be renegotiated and repaired after the conflict, so we can’t allow hubris to rear it’s ugly head.

If you can accept it, enemies are a blessing for the purposeful leader. Leaders that can see the big picture appreciate enemies as simply a part of the process of achieving a purpose worthy of hard work and sacrifice.

Related Posts:

Learning To Forgive

Remarkable Leadership

Courage Always Exists In The Present: What Can I Do Today?

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Comments (22)

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  1. Bret, this is wonderful. As I look through your list and got to #8 – I wonder if humility might be foundational to most/all of the other seven capacities?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That’s a great point, MJ. Probably correct that without humility you won’t have the capacity to engage in these steps, but as you engage in these steps it should only serve to make you even more humble. Yet we both know humble people that don’t confront a wrong, so I don’t think just having humility is enough. Thanks! Bret

    Marne Stillwell Reply:

    Thank you for your discussion on loving your enemies. The easiest and most gratifying course of action for short-term relief is to destroy our enemies. However, by indulging in this impulse, we set ourselves, and our purpose back in the long term. As leaders, when we allow enemies to drive our behavior, rather than insisting that only our common purpose will drive our behavior, we send a strong message that our commitment to, and belief in, our purpose takes a back seat to personal ego. I appreciated the eight steps you included in your entry, it is so easy to fall back into default behaviors and patterns of thought when we are in conflict or crisis, I will definitely refer to and practice these steps!
    Marne Stillwell

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Hi Marne, sorry for the slow reply. You are so right about the easy route. The things I recommend are really all about developing ourselves as leaders. I bet you already practice these steps and more. Thanks! Bret

  2. Great post Bret. Tough lesson to learn for many. So much ENERGY can be wasted in useless words and fights. Humility is not enough, wisdom, courage, integrity and a vision for the goal all 8 steps will carry those intentions forward. Great post, I would love to see our legislators and all candidates follow these principles for life.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Shelley!! I have to agree with you, we could use a HUGE dose of this right now in our state. Great job at your new website, BTW. Keep up the great work! Bret

  3. James Dodson says:


    Sounds similar to Buddhism in many aspects.


    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I have to confess that I am not familiar with Buddhism, James, so I find your observation very interesting. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  4. Bret- This post parallels many similar concepts found in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The detailed strategy for handling conflict can be viewed through a militaristic approach as well as a business/life approach. I have not completed the book, yet the theme of understanding and studying your enemies has appeared throughout.

    One specific point made is to emotionally detach one’s self from the conflict/confrontation/enemy, allowing the leader to focus their thoughts on anticipating and outsmarting the enemy’s next move. As I mentioned, there are militaristic undertones, however I believe the book is full of relevant methaphors for business leadership.

    Thanks, Kevin

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Kevin, I’ve never read that book, but it sounds good. I’m not talking about love as emotion when I suggest that we should love our enemies. I see it as intentional behavior, and I must confess, strategic. Thanks for sharing your insight! Bret

    Kevin J Porter Reply:

    Bret- I was actually thinking of frustration or anger as emotions to try and detach yourself from when dealing with an enemy. In fact, I would argue the book echoes the point of loving or embracing your enemy.

    There actually seems to be quite a bit of behavioral content in The Art of War. I read a section yesterday that describes behavior being dependent on the environment and surroundings, similar to your lectures on person and environment.

    Thanks, Kevin

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Wow, I’d like to see that! Maybe you should blog about it 🙂 Thanks! Bret

  5. Bret, you are so right on the topic, and I will certainly use those 8 key ways not only to develop a capacity to go one or two steps ahead of my enemies, but also to survive strategically in the battle. Thank you very much for sharing this great stuff with us!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Javier! Nothing magic about the 8 “steps” just some suggestions to think about. Bret

  6. Rebecca says:

    Love this, Bret. Just reading it made me feel calmer. On the other side of the line, there’s a funny article from Chuck Klosterman in an old Esquire that one of my buddies pointed me to awhile that you may enjoy.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks for the link, Rebecca! Along a similar line, I still remember your post about burning bridges when you quit a job – agree with that perspective. Thanks! Bret

  7. Kayse says:

    As usual, you’ve hit, spot on. In dealing with such a situation, I’ve one question about a situation I’m experiencing: The problem employee seems to have mental health issues, looses all sense of realty and can yell when angry. Carrying a grudge or anger seems to be a long-practiced habit. While I’ve tried the nice approach, when I go into business-mode, this person has a melt down. This party continually runs to one key board member, twisting truth to fit some unknown agenda.

    Perhaps re-reading “The Art of War” would be appropriate, as I don’t know what else to call the situation…it seems to be “war.”

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Kayse! You describe a tough situation. Recognize that if it is what you think, YOU will not be able to change it. I would document my concerns and ask trusted others for input. Do everything you can to help the employee with the behavior, but clearly define it as behavior and be clear that it has to change. You will do everything you can to help, but things do have to change. Thanks for sharing! Bret

    Kayse Reply:

    Thank you for your response. A clue to how upsetting this is: Grammatical errors I made in my first post. Letting it get to me is totally my fault and I’m working on that. I do everything from compliment her for both large and small things, to praying for her. What I am certain of is that there are lessons here to be learned. If I receive any wisdom, I’ll be happy to share – if I ever reach that point.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    you obviously care, both about the employee and your response, and that matters more I think than having the perfect response. No easy answers as you know. You’ll only be able to see it clearly after it is all well behind you. Hang in there! Bret

  8. Ken Grayling says:

    I think that is the clearest statement I have ever come across of how and why one should deal with ‘troublemakers’.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Ken! I’ve got a history with the term “troublemakers”, having been called one myself many times. It is often a label that get’s slapped on purposeful actors by enemies. Thanks for visiting my site – appreciate the comment! Bret