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The Emotionally Intelligent Leader by Jason Young

Walking into my final meeting after a three-day interview process at one of the nation’s largest churches, I wondered if this was it—would I be selected to work on their phenomenal team?

They offered me a great job and then said something that became transformative: after sharing the results of my assessment, one of the leaders added, “You do not have great self-awareness.” Having always been applauded for so many things about my leadership, my world paused when I heard those words. To be honest, I was not familiar with the vernacular.

After returning home, I called and declined the job offer because I knew I would be more of a liability than an asset.

For me, this was a kairos moment, the genesis of a personal transformation. For so long, I had banked on education, experience, charisma and knowledge to achieve success (whatever that is anyway).

I began to research everything I could on the topic of self-awareness, and I discovered it rests inside a larger subject—emotional intelligence.

Leading experts, Drs. Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves, provide this working definition in their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0:

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships

Further research reveals four core EQ skills:

Personal Competence:
1. Self-awareness: your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations
2. Self-management: your ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively

Social Competence:
3. Social awareness: your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on with them
4. Relationship management - your ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully

Reality is, none of us have it all together. We have questions we can’t answer; this is why we must be willing to invite people to our table of influence. The table is where we invest in others, learn from others and develop new solutions to today’s EQ challenges.

John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence.” If this is true—and I believe it is—we must think deeply about the types of leaders we surround ourselves with who can help us to increase our EQ. The people at our table make us into the leaders we are becoming. Aristotle brilliantly wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”

The first step is to pick the right mix of people.

The right mix of personalities will make or break the success of your table. I’ve read several lists that identify the different roles people play in our lives. You want a variety of personalities that fill all the roles. Consider saving seats for people with these traits:
Clarifier: Asks helpful and difficult questions
Specialist: Provides precision focus, moving you toward the intended target
Challenger: Implores you to act boldly
Creator: Brings an idea into existence by crafting workable action plans from just a few actionable points
Connector: Leads you to other people
Wise Elder: Lends experience and perspective
Friend: Shares life’s journey without judgment and loves you
Strategist: Creates step-by-step simplicity from complex data and conversations
Dreamer: Motivates you to dream without fear
Coach: Builds on your strengths, corrects poor performance, and encourages when energy fades
Pastor: Provides spiritual guidance

The second step is to assess their leadership acumen.

There is a difference between holding a position of leadership and being a leader. Choose people for your table who exhibit specific leadership characteristics you need most. You want:

Leaders who are interested in your well-being. Some leaders are self-centered and look only for personal benefits. Find someone who is others’ focused. Marcus Buckingham suggests choosing people who know you, care about you, and want you to prevail and win.
Leaders who are trustworthy. Trust is crucial. Jalen Rose says creating a personal board is all about win-win. You must give as much as you receive; trust is core to this give-and-take.
Leaders who have an area of expertise. Ken Blanchard attests that none of us is as smart as all of us—we need others’ resources to do our best. Find people with a storehouse of knowledge.
Leaders who ask hard questions. Such people will push you to think and act toward the growth you want but avoid because it’s uncomfortable.
Leaders who keep you on track toward your goals. Look at their track records —do they have a history of consistent success? They can only take you as far as they have gone themselves.
Leaders who may not be as popular or recognizable. The best leaders might be unknown people. They can make a great contribution if given the chance.
Leaders who help you cross from the unknown to the known. Experienced leaders have a perspective that moves you into unknown territory to claim rewards you don’t even know of yet.
Leaders who provide accountability. These leaders provide feedback at critical points. Jim Collins says a personal board helps you find creative alternatives to life’s challenges and is a terrific place to turn for advice on handling crises and ethical dilemmas.
Leaders who help you grow into exceptional standards of character. These are people you look up to, whose integrity shines. Character development is more personal than professional, but Bill George says a personal board of directors is formed to help an individual with “professional issues.”
Leaders who are willing to help you seasonally. Keep in mind the people who can come alongside even for just a season.

The final step is to document the change.

After your table is full of proven leaders with a variety of personalities, keep record of the help, advice and change that result. My table has been my best resource. I’ve depended on them to walk with me over some rocky roads and guide me through some tough decisions. Tracking how others have invested in you is encouraging and further embeds the lessons.

My EQ has significantly increased over the last seven years. Looking back, that interview experience was a powerful force God orchestrated and used to help me grow into the leader I am becoming. No, it has not been easy. However, if I want to be an impact player, then working hard to increase my EQ is required. The same goes for you.

Don’t go it alone. Consider this article as an encouragement to develop your EQ by inviting the right voices into your life so your leadership can go further faster.