What is Emotional Intelligence?

You probably know people who are extremely talented but can’t seem to succeed in leadership roles. You also probably know people who are not quite as gifted but thrive in leadership roles. What makes the difference in leaders who are effective and leaders who are ineffective? Aside of spiritual reasons, the difference is most definitely higher emotional intelligence.


At some point in the last few years, you've probably heard of emotional intelligence. It’s often referred to as EI or EQ. This topic has taken the business world by storm, and many people are beginning to realize its impact on leadership and life in general. Today, I want to share with you my perspective on this topic as well as what research has to say on what emotional intelligence is all about.




I want to start by sharing a few definitions of emotional intelligence from the experts. Drs. John D. Mayer and James Salovey are considered to be among the first developers of the concept EQ. Their definition is psychological in nature. According to Mayer and Salovey, "Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth."

Another man, Daniel Goleman, put emotional intelligence on the map in the mid-1990's. He said, “Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and others” (Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence).


There are a range of thoughts on what EQ really is, but I like to take a more encompassing approach to the concept. Here’s my definition for EQ: From an emotional standpoint, EQ is about being able to understand yourself, manage yourself, understand others, and manage your behavior toward others. Emotional Intelligence is an overarching term for many of the concepts in The Christian Leader Blueprint because it's such an important subject in leadership today. Let's briefly cover each of those components based on my definition of EQ.



1. Understanding Yourself


Understanding yourself is truly one of the most important areas of EQ. I refer to this concept as self-awareness. Self-awareness is being able to understand your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drivers. The deeper your personal understanding, the greater ability you have to manage the reactions and feelings within you.


We all have different combinations of strengths, weaknesses, and needs; and although EQ is not specifically about strengths and weaknesses, EQ allows us to recognize how these characteristics impact our emotions. Consequently, we are able to more effectively manage our strengths, weaknesses, and needs and more successfully control the emotions and the energy that are associated with them. If you are self-aware, you have a good understanding of how your actions and your emotions are going impact others and ultimately impact the organization in which you serve.


Let me give you an example: If I’m aware that I’m a perfectionistic (and I do have those tendencies), I understand the emotions and triggers associated with this part of me. With this awareness, I can push against my natural instincts and temper my emotions so that I don’t drive people crazy with my perfectionist tendencies. I do this by not expecting perfectionism from others while pulling back on what I expect from myself. This means I understand myself and am able to manage how my tendencies impact the world around me.


Here's another example: If you know that your compassion level is really high and recognize that as one of your strengths, you may have to be more intentional about emotions that are associated with this part of your personality. You may struggle with telling people hard things because you have so much love, compassion, and emotion toward others. You will have to be purposeful about telling people things they don’t want to hear. If you're aware of this part of your personality, you can push against your natural instincts and equip yourself to give truth in healthy ways. You can use your compassion to tactfully tell people hard things. Being able to successfully handle your strengths and weaknesses means that you understand yourself and are able to manage how your emotions impact the world around you.


Another characteristic of self-aware people is that they love to hear feedback or constructive criticism, and they know how to take this feedback in a healthy way.


They know constructive criticism helps them become even more self-aware. People with low self-awareness, however, view feedback and constructive criticism as a threat or perhaps even a sign of failure, and they let this negatively impact their emotions.


One more characteristic of self-aware people is that they know their limits, and they will usually not take on things they know they can’t handle. They understand what this does to their emotional and physical energy. They’ll weigh out the risks before they take on certain things, and they’ll make better decisions based on their internal makeup.


2. Managing Yourself


Being able to manage yourself is also called self-regulation. People who can self-regulate can control their bad moods or other emotional impulses.


For example, instead of letting their anger dictate their actions, a person that can self-regulate does not overreact when they are angry. Ephesians 4:26 tells us that we can be angry and sin not. In other words, a person who can self-regulate is able control their reactions in a way that's not destructive to their relationships in spite of their anger.


A person that can manage themselves doesn't deal with things in a passive way either. They understand the communication that needs to happen, and they actually make that communication happen in a healthy way while managing the situation.


A person with high EQ doesn’t tell everyone everything that’s going on inside of them. Instead, they carefully manage their feelings. Those feelings get expressed, but they are expressed appropriately with the safe people in their lives.


It’s important that you pay attention to what motivates you when you are trying to manage yourself. What brings energy to your day-to-day life? What do you truly desire? What are you passionate about? If you know your motivations, you can make better choices, work longer and harder when needed, and fight through the tough circumstances in your life. This is the fuel that will motivate you and drive you forward.


3. Understanding Others


When I talk about understanding others, I'm not talking about understanding physical characteristics. I'm talking about understanding the internal characteristics of a person. Our understanding of others is determined by our ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people as well as what they're going through in the moment. The best word I can use to describe this concept is empathy. If you haven't read my recent post called "A 5-Step Process to Use Empathy," I would definitely encourage you to go check it out.


Empathy is not something that comes naturally to me, but I’ve worked hard to increase my understanding of it. It’s become one of the most useful tools that I use in any relationship but especially in my role as a leader. Empathy and making the effort to understand others are vital to building healthy relationships.


Understanding people as a leader requires us to know what motivates the team members we work with. What do they want in life? What brings energy to their personal and work lives? What do they perceive to be their strengths and weaknesses? Tuning into these personal qualities can make a great difference in the way you lead.


4. Managing Your Behavior toward Others


The topic of managing your behavior toward others overlaps quite a bit with the topics of understanding yourself and managing yourself. It takes self-awareness and self-regulation to be able to effectively manage your behavior toward others. This idea is also called social intelligence and is what really helps a leader build productive relationships. As previously mentioned, an example of social intelligence is being able to understand emotions such as anger, while not allowing those emotions to offend or cause harm in a relationship.


Paying attention to what's going on in a person and managing how you respond to the person in the moment are good social skills. A person with good social skills is adept at managing relationships and building networks; it’s easy for them to find common ground and build report with others. I want to point out that this is different than simply being friendly. Managing your behavior with others is friendliness with a purpose. It’s being intentional with leading people in the direction that you feel you need to go with them. Sometimes managing your behavior with others may include having to go against your natural inclinations and even confront a person when the situation calls for it. Sometimes we have to tell people things they don't want to hear, but if we have high EQ, we can do it in a graceful, productive, and constructive way.


These are the four components of emotional intelligence. The good thing for you and me is that EQ is mostly learned, so it develops as we go through life. We can definitely learn from our experiences in life, but we can also do specific things to educate ourselves even more about what's going on inside of us. Studies have shown that our level of EQ increases as we grow more proficient at handling our emotions and impulses, learning how we're motivated, and sharpening our empathy and social skills. The old-fashioned word for this is maturity. We should mature some naturally as we age, but we can also take steps to intentionally mature our emotional intelligence.


In next week’s post, I'll share with you how emotional intelligence impacts leadership, and I’ll give you some steps that you can take to increase your emotional intelligence.



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