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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

13 Jan '11

The High Cost of Poor Emotional Intelligence


Consider these common scenarios:
A staff member resigns because of a poor fit with his/her organization or team and then on the way out plays the victim and seeks to damage the reputation of their supervisor or leader. The leader is left spending inordinate amounts of time putting out fires, clarifying “reality” and trying to undo the damage of the renegade staff member.

One of your staff has a tendency to get angry when things don’t go their way and in their anger make accusations, threats and ultimatums requiring you to constantly be in dialogue with them about their attitudes and responses which spill out over others and cause others pain. Everything seems to revolve around them, their issues, their pain, the injustices they feel and it takes a lot of your time cleaning up after them.

A member of your team seems to have a constant “edge” in their attitudes and interactions. You always have the sense that they are not really on your team. They display an arrogance that they could always do things better and while they are usually fairly gracious to you in person, you know that they are not as gracious with others when you are not there. You are left always wondering whether the team member is really on your team and you have a vague but real “gut feeling” that they are not to be trusted. You spend hours in dialogue and discussion when the “edge” becomes inappropriate but your staff member never seems to “get it” or take ownership for their attitudes.

You are a senior leader with a leader under you who “bonds” with his/her team through inappropriate emotional enmeshment. While they demand and receive loyalty from their team through their enmeshment, their loyalty to their team is far higher than their loyalty to your leadership, even though they serve under you. Together they develop an “us against the world” mentality and over time you realize that their team is not on your team. The team has effectively been high jacked by its leader – who should be in alignment with you. Ironically, while they demand that their team follows them, they cannot follow themselves.

What I am describing are high maintenance individuals who take an inordinate amount of time, cause one to be diverted from productive work while cleaning up their messes and negatively impact others in the organization. The bottom line is that they have poor emotional intelligence (EQ) and regardless of how competent they are, their poor EQ hurts the organization and is a drain on those who supervise them.

In my book, Leading From the Sandbox, I write that “Emotional Intelligence, often labeled EQ, is the ability to understand ourselves, know what drives us, accurately see how others perceive us, and understand how we relate to others. EQ also measures whether we have the relational skill to work with others while being “self-defining” and allowing others to speak into our lives. Good EQ includes openness to others’ opinions, lack of defensiveness, sensitivity to others, the ability to release others rather than control them, freedom for constructive and robust dialogue, and the willingness to abide by common decisions.”

“Signs of poor EQ include the inability to listen to others, defensiveness, unawareness of how we come across, lack of sensitivity to others’ feelings, an inability to deal constructively with conflict, a drive to control others, narcissism, and the need to have our own way.”

How do you handle folks who exhibit poor EQ and eat up your time and energy? This is the frustrating part because it is their poor EQ which prevents them from understanding their own issues or understanding your concerns. In fact, it can take some intense discussion around behaviors which are unacceptable and accountability for better behavior. It often means that a supervisor or leader must become more and more defining if behaviors don’t change.

There are people who never “get it” and in those cases one has to recognize that they probably will never “get it” and make a decision as to whether their behavior is acceptable in your organization. If it is not, don’t ignore it because their poor EQ impacts everyone around them, may well undermine you (depending on their behaviors) but certainly hurt the culture of your organization. You may need to “marginalize” them in a role that limits the damage they can make. Or, you may simply need to let them go for the sake of the health of your organization. What one should not do is ignore the issue. The cost of maintaining, dealing with and supervising people with poor EQ is high. I often wonder how much ministry is left on the table because of problematic individuals on our team. Remember that if they are impacting you, they are also impacting others. 

Above all, be aware of the EQ issues when hiring. No matter how competent an individual, if they have poor EQ they will hurt you, your team and your organization. Compromising on this issue is one of the most common mistakes in hiring. Leading From the Sandbox can help you think through these issues if you are dealing with them on your team.