The Leader’s Emotional Intelligence: Awareness and Action

Knowing yourself well impacts care for others

distressed woman on her phone with her head in her hand

You receive a call late at night from a member of your congregation in crisis, expressing suicidal thoughts. During your phone conversation, they reveal that they are also struggling with addiction. What do you do next?

A worshiper stops to speak to you after service. She shares that her mother passed away last year; tomorrow is her mother’s birthday. She breaks down and cries; she is still dealing with grief. What do you say?

A church member sets an appointment to talk with you. They directly ask you about your position regarding same-sex marriage. How do you respond?

Each of these scenarios require attention in the moment and gentleness with caution in responding. Whether a person is suicidal, grieving, or struggling with moral questions, it is important to know ourselves and our God before responding too quickly. In the Bible we are encouraged to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Many times we cannot help it that our own emotions or the emotions of others cloud the conversation and could injure the mission of loving people. 

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional Intelligence is your capacity to be aware of and manage your own emotions while effectively empathizing with others. Some examples are:

  • Being able to accept criticism and responsibility.
  • Being able to move on after making a mistake.
  • Being able to say no when you need to.
  • Being able to share your feelings with others.
  • Being able to solve problems in ways that work for everyone.
  • Having empathy for other people.
  • Practicing great listening skills.

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five key elements to Emotional Intelligence: self-Awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy and social skills. 


Let’s start with self-awareness by asking ourselves these questions. 

  • How well do we know ourselves, our moods, what drives us? 
  • What effect do we have on others?


When we are able to control or redirect our own disruptive impulses or moods this is called self-regulation. We become more effective listeners when we couple this with the ability to suspend judgment. 

A best practice to live out self-regulation is to think before acting or speaking and then respond by simply being quiet.

Internal motivation

Internal motivation is the ability to go beyond your own feelings of disappointment and observe the beneficial aspect of any situation.


Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. Consider another’s perspective and intentionally build a relationship with that person. 

Remember to concentrate on their issue and not present your thoughts or opinions. Be aware of your body language and how it is communicating. Ask yourself, “What am I saying as I listen?” Are we able to get into the dirt with another and be there with them through their trial? This is what is called a “ministry of presence.”

Let’s look at the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy drives disconnection. Many times responses begin with “At least…” and the intent of the sympathizer is to find a silver lining in the problem. Empathy fuels connection. It has the ability to take on the perspective of another, stay out of judgment, recognize emotion in others, and communicate that. Empathy is a choice to connect—feeling with people. It sounds like: “I don’t know what to say right now, but I’m just so glad you told me…”

Social skills

Social skills start with listening intently to the words and emotions behind what another is saying or explaining before you respond. Be careful, sensitive and aware of their story and pain. Build trust, be honest yet sensitive, listen for trigger words, and watch for emotions behind them.

“Rarely can a response make something better…what makes something better is connection.” –Brené Brown

Let’s take a pulse on your own emotional intelligence. Think through the following questions:

  • Do you get along well and have interest in others? 
  • Do you know your own strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you operate with integrity?
  • Are you aware of your own feelings?
  • Are you focused on the present?
  • Are you self-motivated?
  • Do you have well-placed boundaries?

Taking time to understand your own emotional intelligence and areas for improvement is the best way to know yourself and how you care, process and listen to others. Great communication starts with great listening. The next time you find yourself in a situation where you are asking yourself, What do I do next? What do I say? Or How do I respond? Remember that emotional intelligence is an ongoing process of growth and you will empathize and respond well!

Further resources: 

Brené Brown: RSA short: Empathy

Daniel Goldman: Emotional Intelligence

  • Jeanette Robert

    Jeanette has a passion to serve Executive Leaders in business by providing support for them to be successful in intentionally caring for their people. In her current role as Executive Director of Expansion with the employee care service, Marketplace Chaplains she travels the country educating and serving C-Suite leaders of public and private companies as they intentionally and proactively care for their employees and families. Jeanette Robert, MBA, DMIN May 2022, Executive Director of Expansion, Marketplace Chaplains [email protected]

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