the shape of leadership

Emotional Intelligence

The one skill you must master if you want people to care about following you.

Chris Railey on July 20, 2018


As leaders, we should always be gaining knowledge and skill. Leaders are learners. That means you are reading up on the latest data and techniques, participating in training and coaching, and honing your skills through intentional practice. The wealth of books, articles, podcasts and seminars devoted to developing leaders seems endless.

But one skill we all must master for people to care about following us is emotional intelligence. You may be able to create systems that make it easy for people to communicate need across departments. You may be able to articulate vision in a competent and passionate way. You may be able to define goals and strategically plan their achievement.

However, if you lack emotional intelligence, you may find yourself constantly behind.

Do you struggle with difficult circumstances? Do you find it hard to connect with others in meaningful ways? Are you easily offended or get angry at the drop of a hat? You may need a tune up when it comes to emotional intelligence.

EQ is Better than IQ

We all know that person who is highly intelligent, always on the dean’s list and seems to have aced every test, but when it came to simple tasks they were at a loss. You can have a lot of book smarts and lack common sense. In the same way you can be highly trained as a leader but lack emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your own feelings and those of others. It’s being in control of your thoughts and actions. It’s about helping others do the same. That’s what emotionally mature leaders do.

In his book Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs shows us what it takes to operate at a high level in your leadership. He explains that it is “the glue that holds people together on a team.” It can also mean the difference between fulfilling your vision and falling just short.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are better leaders. According to Malphurs, they communicate more effectively. They know the right word to say and when to say it. They are clear about what is needed from their teams. But they are also adept at picking up verbal cues and reading nonverbal signs that clue them into where their teams are. Their words inspire and motivate.

Also, emotionally intelligent leaders are both self-aware and socially aware, understanding their own emotions, best giftings and how to fit in with the teams they lead. They can also read their teams, sense when tensions are high, and help keep emotions in check.

Leadership Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

When you look at the benefits that emotional intelligence brings to leadership, it all begins with basic competency. When emotionally mature, you can handle any situation.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your own feelings and those of others.

Emotionally competent people can handle issues. They don’t crumble under pressure easily and are able to bear the brunt of circumstances. When faced with difficult people, competent leaders remain even keel because they are able to manage their emotions.

In addition, emotionally competent people know when they are close to an emotional extreme and can bring themselves back from the edge. They can also identify the emotional pitfalls in others.

Along with emotional competency is being relationally available. This is having an open door policy even when it’s difficult. If emotional competency is about your own interior state as a leader, then relational availability is about the exterior nature you portray. It is how you relate to the outside world.

Being available requires you to be down to earth and easy to relate to. Leaders who are stand-offish or cold will most likely be considered arrogant or rude. But available leaders see their followers go to bat for them, trust them more and become cheerleaders for the vision.

It’s not enough to know about emotional intelligence, you have to put it into action. Here are two simple things to engage as you try to increase your emotional intelligence:

1. Connect with Others
How are you at relating to your staff? There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. And most leaders need to unplug from others, gaining needed down time. But influential leaders will always be able to connect with others.

Find common interests between yourself and those you lead. Be willing to adapt to your surroundings. Make the list of topics you can engage on as broad as possible. Paul may have said it best, stating he had become all things to all people to win even a few to Christ. It takes strong connecting skills to develop emotional intelligence.

2. Be Present
When you’re talking with your team, don’t constantly check email, do paperwork or read something off your phone. Instead, be present. Those conversations you have are the substance of relationship. Make eye contact, give nonverbal clues you are listening, and don’t interrupt.

These may seem very basic, but if you find yourself struggling in conversation they may help improve your relational skills. Your active presence in a conversation lets others know you are interested in a relationship with them, not what they can offer as a team member.

You may see emotional intelligence as being an expert with your emotions. That may be true. But don’t let that lead to simply pushing your emotions down. Instead, it’s about being in control.

As ministry leaders, we need to know who is in control. True self-control, of our emotions, our plans, and our desires, comes through being Spirit controlled. As we walk in the Spirit, we will produce self-control as a fruit. It’s because we are letting Him call the shots.

We cannot stop the circumstances of life that wear at our emotions. We can change the way we react. When we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, we will be better leaders plain and simple. One great way to accomplish that is through emotional intelligence.


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