By Mark Tidsworth
When I worked as a therapist, my caseload eventually became crowded with clergy and church staff. After we worked through their clinical issues, many continued in counseling, addressing concerns related to their ministry. I had the sense there were common themes running through their collective stories, but conceptualizing these themes remained elusive.
Later, when I became a leadership coach with clergy and church staff, the clinical issues were less of a concern. Instead my clients moved right into their desire to provide effective, authentic and healthy leadership with and for their congregations.
I began to form concepts to describe these elusive common themes related to leadership effectiveness. Maturity? People skills? Then I discovered a copy of Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman’s book which applies emotional intelligence to the leadership challenge.
Emotional intelligence does not describe all of what’s needed for effective pastoral leadership, but it does make a huge contribution to answering a basic question: “Why is it that spiritually committed, caring and even experienced clergy and church staff still function poorly as congregational leaders?”
Emotional intelligence competencies help us understand why some clergy inadvertently derail their leadership effectiveness.
One of the best studies I’ve seen on why clergy leave local church ministry is Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger’s book Pastors In Transition. Their research makes it clear that most of the time pastors don’t leave local church ministry due to headline kinds of issues such as immoral or illegal behavior. Mostly they leave due to conflict in the congregation or with the denomination, lack of support and feelings of burnout and frustration.
What emotional intelligence competencies might equip and empower these pastors to manage themselves differently in the white-hot crucible of congregational life? In our work with clergy and church staff we observe factors like poor emotional self-management, poor relational skills, inability to read relationship patterns and group dynamics and simply uninspiring leadership. Emotional intelligence concepts address each of these pitfalls, recognizing the necessary competence needed to lead effectively.
Goleman’s research describes two fallacies in leadership development. First, we recruit leaders based on their IQ, believing that one must be smart to lead well. Second, we promote people to leadership based on their technical expertise.
Emotional intelligence tells us that IQ is simply a threshold competency for leadership, not an accurate predictor for effectiveness. Leaders need to be smart, but this only gets them in the leadership opportunity door.
Also, technically skilled people don’t necessary make effective leaders. One can be a wonderful Greek and Hebrew scholar without having a clue on how to lead a church body to accomplish its mission. Technical expertise rarely leads to leadership effectiveness.
“Emotional intelligence refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships,” Goleman says.
When it comes to ministry, I describe it as “managing one’s emotions and relationships so that the congregation more effectively accomplishes its mission.” Emotionally intelligent pastors influence the mood and morale of the congregation toward the positive, hopeful and empowered perspectives.
Recently we worked with a congregation primarily of older persons. A new young couple joined this church, bringing their baby along with them. During moments of silence in the worship service, the baby erupted with a loud cry in the nursery, reminding the congregation their church walls were not sound-proof. Only those who were the hardest of hearing missed this.
At the board meeting after worship, one person asked if others heard the loud crying during the silent prayer. The board chair spoke up quickly and said: “While I was praying I could hear the baby screaming in the nursery, and I said to myself: ‘That is music to my ears. Thank you Lord that we have a baby to make noise in our nursery at this church!’”
This emotionally intelligent board chair just managed the meaning of a congregational event. I watched others around the table. Their expressions progressed from puzzlement to affirmation. “Yes, thank God we have a baby now to make noise in our nursery.” Emotionally intelligent leaders seize opportunities to lead the congregation in framing events for mission advancement.
Organizational awareness, reading group dynamics, managing meaning in relation to the mission — these are the activities of emotionally intelligent pastoral leaders. May their kind increase!