Emotional Intelligence for Leaders
by Rodger Dean Duncan
[source unknown]

Some people are born with leadership qualities. Just like other human traits, the gifts associated with leadership - vision, imagination, empathy, courage, etc. - come to some people as naturally as freckles and curly hair.

Leadership in the Church is so much more than conducting meetings and giving talks. Good leadership involves affirmation, encouragement, teaching, correcting and coaching. It involves planning and coordinating and executing. It involves a wide range of skills, all of which are marshaled to bring people to Christ.

Aside from personal integrity and righteousness, what quality is most critical to effective leadership in the Church? In my view, that quality is something called emotional intelligence. In recent years much has been said and written about emotional intelligence, notably in the best-selling book of that title by Daniel Goleman. His latest book, Primal Leadership, addresses the power that emotional intelligence brings to a person's leadership behaviors.

Here's the way Goleman (not of our faith) describes the dimensions of emotional intelligence and the associated competencies.


  • Emotional self-awareness: Attuned to one's guiding values, able to see the big picture in a complex situation, able to be candid and authentic, able to speak with conviction about one's guiding vision.

  • Accurate self-assessment: Knowing one's strengths and limits, exhibiting a gracefulness in learning where improvement is needed.

  • Self-confidence: A sound sense of one's self-worth and capabilities.

  • Emotional self-control: Able to stay calm and clear-headed under stress, able to stay unflappable even when confronted by a trying situation.

  • Transparency: Authentic, open, honest, trustworthy. Willing to admit own mistakes and faults. Willing to confront unethical behavior in others rather than turn a blind eye.

  • Adaptability: Able to juggle multiple demands without losing focus or energy. Comfortable with ambiguities. Nimble in adjusting to fluid change.

  • Achievement: The drive to improve performance to meet high standards. Continually learning - and teaching - ways to do better.

  • Initiative: Ready to act and seize opportunities.

  • Optimism: Seeing the upside in events and the best in other people.
Social Awareness

  • Empathy: Able to sense the felt, but sometimes unspoken, emotions in others. Able to understand other people's perspective.

  • Organizational awareness: Reading the currents, decision networks and other dynamics at the organizational level.

  • Service: Recognizing and meeting the needs of others.
Relationship Management
  • Inspirational leadership: Able to articulate a shared mission in a way that inspires others to follow.

  • Influence: Persuasive and engaging when addressing others.

  • Developing others: Adept at cultivating the abilities of their followers in the context of their followers' goals, strengths, and vulnerabilities.

  • Change catalyst: Recognize the need for change, challenge the status quo.

  • Conflict management: Able to draw out all parties, understand the differing perspectives, find a common ideal that everyone can support.

  • Teamwork and collaboration: Generate an atmosphere of friendly collegiality. Able to draw others into active, enthusiastic commitment to the collective effort while building spirit and identity.
Wow! If a bishop can do all that, plus bake bread and make his own clothes, he's only a step away from being translated. Of course even the most effective bishops would acknowledge they have plenty to learn. (In fact, that very acknowledgement is one reason they're so effective already.)

Continuous learning is a hallmark of the gospel. It is a hallmark of righteous priesthood government. It is a hallmark of great leadership.

The best leaders I've had in the Church were very good about providing unvarnished feedback on my performance. Their feedback has been specific to my callings at the time and relevant to my own personal growth.

At the same time - and this is a key differentiator - the best leaders I've had in the Church frequently solicit feedback on their own performance. They are open to critiques of both their ideas and of their leadership. On occasion, they actively seek "negative" feedback, valuing the voice of counter thinking. (By contrast, less effective leaders - if they solicit feedback at all - most often solicit confirming feedback.)

I realize that the notion of soliciting feedback seems at odds with priesthood authority and personal revelation. But it's not. That's why bishops and stake presidents have counselors. That's why married couples are encouraged to counsel together. That's why the Brethren emphasize the council form of Church government.

The most effective leaders I know are careful to break through the information quarantine that sometimes surrounds them. They actively seek negative feedback as well as positive. They understand that in order to perform better they need a full range of information - even when the information doesn't feel good to hear.

For a bishop it can mean privately asking his Relief Society president, "Sister Roberts, what are three things you could suggest for making our Ward Council meetings more effective?" Or even more to the point, "Sister Roberts, when we have our stewardship interview next week, please be prepared to tell me a couple of things I'm doing that make your calling more difficult than it should be. I'm really eager to help you and the other sisters in the ward, and I want to know about any speed bumps I might have placed in your path." When the relationship dynamics are good, this kind of dialogue can be helpful to the leadership of both parties. And it helps eliminate blind spots that hamper performance.

Think how easy it must be to miss the cues and clues from the people we serve. Are we providing what they really need? Are we really reaching them? Are we really lifting them?

If we're not accustomed to asking, they're probably not very accustomed to telling. So we need to ask, then ask some more. And listen.

The bad news is that not everyone is born with emotional intelligence competencies. The good news is that they can be learned and practiced.

In addition to the Lord Himself, sometimes our best coaches are the very people we've been asked to lead.

It's not called "servant leadership" for nothing.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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