Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence

Cool. Calm. Collected. Unemotional.

For the longest time, seminaries have tried to churn out pastors who embody those words. The assumption is that if we can simply preach the Bible as it is, exegete a text, people will change. This is all that is required to lead a church well.

But both research and experience bear this to be false. We cannot lead un-emotionally because God is an emotional God. We cannot teach the Bible stoically because the Bible is an emotional book. It is offensive. It is moving. It is passionate. 

We see human emotions in God throughout Scripture.  God’s anger is expressed in Ezekiel 5:13; His joy in Jeremiah 32:41, His sadness in John 11:35, and of course, His love is displayed from Genesis to Revelation.

God’s Word both trains the mind and pierces the heart. When we attempt to lead in a way that is divorced from our emotions, we deny a fundamental aspect of how God intends for us to live and love.

This is the foundational assumption in Aubrey Malphurs’s book, Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders. As a long-time seminary professor, Aubrey insightfully and humbly admits that we have trained pastors incorrectly for a long time. Most pastors can preach a sermon, but they are totally unaware of their emotions and how those emotions are impacting their leadership. At best, many pastors try to hide their emotions. At worst, some pastors fail out of the ministry because their emotions are out of control and it leads to disqualifying leadership.

Daniel Goleman said in Primal Leadership that a “leader’s emotions have public consequences.” The sooner pastors embrace this truth, the better. Both Goleman and Malphurs suggest four main steps to being an emotionally intelligent pastor. I will explain them briefly here. But if you’re interested in having a more emotionally-intelligent leadership style, I suggest buying both of those books.

The podcast audio is available below, or you can watch the video version of this episode on Facebook or YouTube.

Emotional intelligence requires four skills. Each skill adds a layer or level of ability. As you grow your emotional intelligence skills, you increase the ways you can leverage your EQ to be a more compelling leader. Here are the four levels:

1. Understand and be aware of your own emotions.

This sounds simple but is incredibly difficult—especially for people who are accustomed to ignoring or hiding their emotions. Emotional awareness is a refined skill. For example, can you tell the difference between the feelings of fear and anger? You might assume you do, but deep heart-work often exposes that a reaction that looks like anger may actually be the result of fear. What about the difference between resentment and disgust? The emotions are similar but different. The emotionally intelligent pastor is self-aware of his true emotions and can identify them by name.

2. Control your emotions.

Emotional self-awareness is one thing. Controlling your emotions is something else entirely. Do not confuse controlling your emotions with hiding your emotions. Many leaders, especially men, have a tendency to suppress their emotions, which triggers more caustic behaviors down the road. Like a pressure relief valve, no leader can contain their emotions forever. Emotionally intelligent leaders know how to direct their emotions in healthy ways, rather than hide them. In fact, the best leaders use their emotions as a strategic tool to lead and inspire people. It takes time and training to know how to gain control over your emotions. Goleman’s book does an exemplary job of explaining the neural chemistry involved. Malphurs’ book elevates the spiritual component that is essential to controlling your emotions.

3. Understand and sense the emotions of others.

Pastors are sometimes unable to connect at the emotional level with the people in their congregation. Either they are too busy trying to hide their emotions or have so little control over their own emotions that it inhibits their ability to empathize. Empathy is not merely crying when someone else cries; empathy is about knowing, in a deep way, the emotions of a person—or even a crowd. Empathy is about being in-tune with how others are feeling, and reacting to their emotions in a way that creates a positive connection.

4. The ability to shape the emotions to move others.

An emotionally intelligent pastor has a well-equipped emotional “toolbox.” He knows how to properly use emotion to inspire, coach, build camaraderie, and even to command when necessary. A truly emotionally intelligent pastor does not use these tools in a manipulative way but in a genuine way. If a leader is truly self-aware, in control of his emotions, and in-synch with others, he will choose the right tool. In the long-term, those who use emotions in a manipulative way will be exposed. But those who know how to properly and genuinely move people forward using emotionally intelligent leadership will have long-lasting success.

Each of these four levels of EQ involves significant time and training. Emotional intelligence is not cultivated overnight. But it can be learned.

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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