Can You Lead With Your Heart?

Emotional LeadershipLeading others is emotional work.

Exceptional leaders are comfortable with their own emotions and can enter into the emotional world of others without losing themselves. They earn trust by addressing the feelings, needs, and concerns of those they lead.

Last Fall my wife and I, along with our church small group, studied the book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. In chapter 9, Pete discusses the process of maturing from an emotional infant into an emotional adult and how emotional growth often progresses independently from physical aging. If you’ve ever met someone who seems wise beyond their years—or had an experience with an adult that made you wonder if you were still in Junior High—you know what I’m talking about.

Understanding your own emotional maturity as well as that of your followers is critical. Below I’ve summarized the four levels of emotional maturity Pete lays out in the book. There’s a lot of overlap here, but as you review the list, think about where you fall in the continuum. Then think of someone who you’re having a tough time dealing with—where do you think they land?

Emotional Infants:

  • Look for others to take care of them
  • Have great difficulty entering into the world of others
  • Are driven by their need for constant gratification or affirmation
  • Use others as objects to meet their needs

Emotional Children:

  • unravel quickly from stress, disappointments, trials
  • Interpret disagreements as personal offenses, and are easily hurt
  • Complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge, & become sarcastic when don’t get their way
  • Have great difficulty calmly discussing their needs and wants in a mature, loving way

Emotional Adolescents:

  • Are threatened and alarmed by criticism
  • Keep score of what they give so they can ask for something later in return
  • Deal with conflict poorly, often blaming, appeasing, pouting, or ignoring the issue entirely
  • Have great difficulty truly listening to another person’s pain, disappointments, or needs

Emotional Adults:

  • Are able to ask for what they need, want or prefer—clearly, directly, honestly
  • Recognize, manage, and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • Give people room to make mistakes and not be perfect
  • Appreciate people for who they are—the good, bad, and ugly—not for what they give back
  • Can resolve conflict maturely and negotiate solutions that include others.

Personally, I’m learning that other people are generally stronger than I give them credit for. I don’t need to shelter them from how I really think and feel. How about you?

What areas of emotional maturity do you need to work on? How can you help others grow emotionally?

9 thoughts on “Can You Lead With Your Heart?”

  1. Nice post Geoff. Pre-Great Recession, I thought I was somewhere between teen and adult, but through the craziness that’s been “the new normal” I find myself all over this scale. Infant one minute, teen the next, adult at the end of the day. My philosophy seems to be that as long as we end up in the good, mature, professional adult space – it’s all good. I wonder, is there a space after adult? Emotional Retiree? Emotional Second Childhood? See you in DC at PLS. :)

    1. Thanks for sharing. I’m with you about feeling all over this scale at times! And I agree, my initial reactions are often toward the immature end, but if I can get to the mature end and respond appropriately, I count it as success. The key is cutting down the time it takes me to travel that distance!

      “Emotional Second Childhood”, hmm. I’m not sure if that would involve a healthy disregard for what others think or just a whiney mid-life crisis. ;)

      Oh, and PLS is going to rock this year—Graceworks is doing two workshops!

  2. Thank you for the great topic. I find that true success and being a great leader comes from being as authentic as you can be. The more authentic I can be, the more valued I am as a friend, employee, boss, partner, etc. Of course we all want to be Emotional Adults in this process and after a lot of hard work, I identify with those characteristics, but I do believe it’s extremely hard to maintain when confronted with Emotional Infants. My approach when faced with Emotional Infants is to view them as my teacher. These are the moments when I get to work on compassion and detachment in a non-judgmental way, because if I can’t do that, then how emotionally mature am I really? Accepting other’s emotional path and imperfections, without absorbing them, is the ultimate maturity and one that I will continue to strive for until I croak.
    Progress, not perfection.

  3. Jennifer, what a terrific comment, there’s so much wisdom in there—thanks for sharing.

    You’re right, we’re wired to respond in kind to emotional infants, but you’ve identified the narrow road of keeping your center and not judging others. I love the picture of seeing them as teachers, it steers you well clear of looking down on them.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hello Geoff,
    The book sounds great, I think I will put it on my book list. I believe leaders need to have emotional awareness in order to lead successfully. They need to be “Emotional Adults” which is missing among some adults. Great post.

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