the shape of leadership

What Makes You Tick, and What Ticks You Off?

The benefits of growing in emotional intelligence

Jeannie Clarkson on July 6, 2020

Leaders often make one of two mistakes in their interactions with people. The first is an error of commission: people pleasing. The other is one of omission: failing to develop as a people person.

People pleasers experience high stress in conflicts and situations where someone might be displeased. Characteristics of people pleasers include the following:

  • They strive to please others and avoid conflict at all cost.
  • They spend too much time worrying about what others think.
  • They become distressed when others voice opposing views or complaints.
  • They may abdicate what they view as best just to keep someone happy.

A people person is not necessarily an extroverted back slapper. A people person is someone who has mastered interpersonal communication skills and genuinely cares for others. Here are some other traits:

  • They hurt when criticized but maintain an objective view of the criticism.
  • They work hard to resolve conflicts in a collaborative fashion rather than just avoiding conflict.
  • They practice self-acceptance while also showing others acceptance, love and patience.
  • They work collaboratively on a corporate vision while staying true to personal values and goals.

Whether you tend toward people pleasing or go too far in the other direction and haven’t developed as a people person, you can benefit by cultivating the skills known as emotional intelligence (EI).

You can find any number of academic definitions, but I prefer to think of emotional intelligence as relational and emotional wisdom. It means understanding myself and my own emotions, then applying that insight to my interactions with others.

God created us in His image, with the ability to experience emotions. He commands us to tend to our emotions — to control anger and speak wisely, for example. God also offers to help us with our emotions (Psalm 147:3).

Emotional intelligence seems to decrease frustration and increase satisfaction and success in ministry.

The Benefits of EI

In 2013, as part of my Ph.D. work, I surveyed 263 pastors leading churches of various sizes on the topic of clergy burnout.

Pastors with higher emotional intelligence scores experienced a greater sense of personal accomplishment. Pastors who tended to base their identity and worth on perceptions of success or failure in ministry reported higher rates of emotional exhaustion. In other words, pastors who tie their value to their ministry performance are more likely to struggle with burnout.

Emotional intelligence seems to decrease frustration and increase satisfaction and success in ministry — significantly reducing the risk of burnout. These findings convinced me that emotional intelligence is crucial to transformational leadership — and ministry longevity.

Three Ways to Grow EI

Emotional intelligence requires a foundation of self-understanding, a deep awareness of what makes you tick — and what ticks you off.

Most of us don’t understand ourselves well. I often hear people say things like, “I don’t know why I keep doing that!”

Self-understanding requires self-reflection. The Psalmist cried out, “Search me, O God!” The Lord can and does give us insight, but we also have to be willing to search ourselves. Here are three ways to do that:

Listen to feedback. Pay attention to what others say — not only the good things, but also the less flattering observations and criticisms.

Practice journaling. This is a helpful way to process negative emotions. The point is to reflect on what you’re feeling and why.

Analyze self-talk. The things you say to yourself reveal how you see yourself. Your behaviors and moods will eventually conform to your self-talk. Identify negative self-talk patterns, and replace them with healthier ways of thinking.

Pastor, your congregation deserves the best leadership you can provide. People pleasing serves no one. Yet pastors must be people persons. Emotional intelligence skills will help you find that happy medium, stress less, and lead well.

It starts with a better understanding of what makes you tick, and what ticks you off.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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