Leadership plays an important role in our families, local and international communities, churches and other places of worship and places of employment. The strength and endurance of each of these institutions will largely depend on whether leaders possess high emotional intelligence (EI). Leaders with deficient EI can often be dangerous to themselves and to those they lead. This article defines EI, five of its most important characteristics, and the leadership implications of each characteristic.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
EI (also referred to as EQ) is a term created by two researchers – Peter Salavoy and John Mayer – and popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name. It is defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions and to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
Leaders ought to be aware of the impact of their emotions which will often shape their behaviour and either have a positive or negative impact on those they lead. Despite this, many corporate, community and national leaders appear to lack any sense of EI. This could explain why many leaders appear oblivious to the consequences of their actions on those they lead.
It is important to appreciate that leadership is not restricted to a chosen few. At some level, we all assume positions of leadership, be it in a family context as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and siblings or in the broader community, religious and employment contexts. Since we are all leaders, we ought to examine ourselves and be aware of the need for high EI. This ensures that we are better equipped to demonstrate effective leadership for the benefit of those we lead.
Critical to this goal is the need to learn to manage our emotions and influence the emotions of others in a way that will result in better relationships that are more likely to release our God-given potential as leaders. To this end, it is worth considering the five key characteristics of EI identified by Goleman which are: (a) self-awareness; (b) self-regulation; (c) motivation; (d) empathy; and (e) social skills.
Self-awareness involves recognizing and understanding our own emotions and motivations and their impact on others. To be able to recognise emotions leaders must clearly identify what they feel. This can range from fear, anger/rage, envy, hatred, self-attention, anxiety, sorrow, grief, despair, dejection, frustration, joy, trust, anticipation, high spirit, kindness, or love.
To understand our emotions it is essential that we discern the reasons behind it. If fear is the emotion, is it because of the wrongs you have done and you are afraid the truth may be revealed, or is your fear driven by the concern that having assumed a position of leadership, you will one day have to step aside? If envy is the emotion, is that emotion driven by jealousy of another person’s success, intelligence or popularity.
A genuine leader who remains alert to the drivers behind his or her emotions will stand a better chance of avoiding pitfalls that present when emotions are not kept in check. In the political context, leaders will often succumb to the abuse of instruments of power and government institutions to cover up wrong deeds, target opponents and corruptly amass wealth. Behaviour that results from fear, hatred, and envy is more likely to present as a reign of terror, intolerance of divergent views, suppression of freedoms and human rights and outright impunity as regards laws of the land. A fearful, hateful, and envious leader is likely to have no confidence and self-worth. He or she may even find it difficult to accept and appreciate those that helped elevate him or her to that position of leadership.
Self-regulation simply means the exercise of self-control and restraint. Ultimately, self-regulation is the capacity to delay or stop our impulses. When faced with emotions it is better not to act in the heat of the moment but rather reign in our emotions and use the head and not the heart (seat of emotions) before responding.
The Bible says in 1John 2:16 and 17:
16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.
17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
Our lives are bombarded by the three “Ps” in verse 16: passion (lust of the flesh), pleasure (lust of the eyes), and pride. These are powerful forces that may drive our behaviour in ways that are not compatible with God’s expectation if we are not able to regulate ourselves. It is in pursuit of these vices that many leaders in all spheres of life have failed their accountability test as leaders.
Leaders cannot be effective without motivation. Self-motivation involves mobilising our positive emotions to drive us to our goals. A leader with high EI will likely have a deep desire to succeed in his or her leadership role. Those positive emotions include joy at seeing other people succeed, love for those we lead, kindness towards the weak and vulnerable.
Where a person possessing such traits assumes a position of leadership, his or her pre-occupation is more likely to be focused on creating and fostering a conducive environment for tranquillity and prosperity of his or her constituents. Such a leader would also have a clear vision that would drive his or her own behaviour and influence the behaviour of those constituents.
Contrast the above to a leader with low EI who will instead seek to amass wealth, power and status at all cost, as a result of negative emotions such as fear, anger, grief, envy, and shame. The instruments of power in the hands of such a leader would therefore be used for self-serving purposes to the detriment of that leader’s constituents.
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in another’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. A leader with high EI is empathetic such that he or she is able to understand the despair, sorrow, and grief of the weak and the less fortunate. Such a leader would be concerned with the welfare of his or her constituents and would use their position of power and influence for their benefit. Like Jesus Christ, an empathetic leader would not be master but a servant.
In contrast to the above, an un-empathetic leader can be dangerous. Traits that characterise such a leader include brutality, cruelty, deception, evil, hateful, inhumane, malicious, mercilessness, and sadistic. Such a leader takes pleasure in the suffering of others.
Social skills are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, including both verbal and non-verbal means of communication and interaction. The Bible has many scriptures that illustrate the point that our communication comes from deep within our hearts. A good leader will do well to “watch over your heart with diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. Jesus Christ said:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Jesus thus provides us with the tools with which to test our leaders’ social skills. Becoming a good leader takes effort, it does not come on a silver platter. Watching over your heart takes deliberate personal effort. It requires self-improvement. You have to be a long-life learner, though it is never too late to start afresh. This means that even leaders who are driven by bad emotions can be transformed through learning and by the grace of God from communicating by means of threats and fear-mongering to guiding their constituents with inspiration. In that regard, a good leader will use persuasion and negotiation to manage conflict and not brutal suppression of dissent.
The various characteristics of EI outlined above are important tenets for effective leaders. Leaders that lack emotional intelligence can be dangerous to themselves and the people they lead. Leadership can be learned, but above all it must be driven by a deep desire to succeed for the good of one’s constituents.