Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Courageous Emotional Intelligence

Written by: on April 15, 2024

In Dare to Lead[1] Brené Brown covers a wide range of challenges that leaders face to diagnose why they are hard and to give some quick strategies for mitigation. Some of my favorite areas were around combating shame with empathy and living into our values. Brown has made a very successful career by unpacking psychological and anthropological patterns into digestible- even entertaining topics for leaders, and this book serves as a prime example of that.

Books like Brown’s – those that are accessible to busy new leaders – can be a true encouragement. Earlier in my own career, I would hold up a book like Dare to Lead and say “A ha! I have found it! A method to help me corral the madness of leadership! Now I have the tool that I need to solve the difficulties of leadership.”  As experience increases, however, (and as we heard from Martyn Percy in Oxford) the glut of modern-day leadership books would indicate that no one has found the Rosetta Stone for leadership. So I have developed a weird habit: when reading a piece of popular professional literature, I will try to figure out from where the underlying concepts may have sprung.

And, as has so often been the case in this academic program, I find that the answers just sort of come from unexpected areas. Take for example, today, when I was sitting with the volunteer crew of café workers from my church, and we were having our small group check in between services. It was a casual setting and the conversation had slowed. Being that this is the end of our school term, assignment deadlines are looming on my consciousness. I thought I would get some real-world data for my research. I asked them to brainstorm conditions under which they would be comfortable raising a dissenting opinion in a Christian context. Their answers were all over the board, but several of them brought up the idea of needing to understand the impact that their words would have on the dynamic in the room. Finally, someone said: “its really about emotional intelligence.”

This stood out to me because when I was conducting one of my prototype conversations, a participant wondered aloud if giving people just-in-time emotional intelligence training could be helpful in creating a safe environment for authentic dialogue. At that point, I had made a note to do some deeper reading on Emotional Intelligence, then hearing it this morning was a reminder.

The prime was pumped then, as I was reading Dare to Lead today and I began to see ideas echoing Emotional Intelligence in Browns choice of words. Phrases like:

  • “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind[2]
  • “Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.”[3]
  • “Empathy is connecting to the emotion that underpins an experience.”[4]
  • Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things[5]
  • “When we have the courage to walk into our story and own it, we get to write the ending”[6]

These sentiments seem to be a manifestation of the underlying concepts of Emotional Intelligence. To investigate further, (as all good researchers do these days) I inquired of Chat GPT:

Me: Can you define emotional intelligence?

Chat GPT: Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage both your own emotions and the emotions of others effectively. It involves a set of skills that enable individuals to navigate social interactions, communicate empathetically, make sound decisions, and cope with stress and challenges in a healthy manner.

My AI friend then went on to school me on the 4 types of EI:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social awareness (Empathy)
  • Relationship management

If I was not under the gun of competing deadlines for school, I would go back and take more of Brown’s concepts and see how they would fall into this framework of EI. For now, I am going to file her work in my mental card catalog of resources under “Emotional Intelligence” and “Resources to Encourage New Leaders” and maybe even “Potential Book Club for Teams Needing to Workshop Culture Issues”.  I have lately learned of Daniel Goleman who is a leading thinker in these concepts and is now on my summer reading list as I dig deeper into the behaviors that can create a safer space for dialogue.[7] More to come as the research continues.


[1] Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (New York: Random House, 2018).

[2] Brown, 44.

[3] Brown, 70.

[4] Brown, 118.

[5] Brown, 184.

[6] Brown, 240.

[7] Daniel Goleman, The Emotionally Intelligent Leader (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 2019); Daniel Goleman, “LEADERSHIP BLINDSPOTS,” Leader to Leader 2021, no. 100 (2021): 22–25, https://doi.org/10.1002/ltl.20564; Daniel Goleman, Annie McKee, and Shawn Achor, Everyday Emotional Intelligence: Big Ideas and Practical Advice on How to Be Human at Work, Harvard Business Review Guides (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press, 2018); Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership: Harvard Business Review,” Harvard Business Review 86, no. 9 (September 2008): 74–81.

About the Author

Jennifer Vernam

5 responses to “Courageous Emotional Intelligence”

  1. Jenny Dooley says:

    I enjoyed how you’re gleaning from everyday conversations and check-ins with people to explore questions around your NPO. Insights can be found in unexpected places. Are you considering a “just-in-time emotional intelligence training” as part of your NPO? If so, how might you include that piece to aid in dialogue? I am likely going to need to do some training as well. Have a wonderful summer. I’m looking forward to catching up in DC. Maybe we can get a nice walk in somewhere since we missed it in Oxford.

  2. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks Jenn….definitely some important learning that is necessary for every leader–Pastors included! If I look at what is taking Pastoral leaders out in my denomination….or if we were to look at the big headlines of mega-church failures…LACK of EQ is often named as a prime cause. Of course, sexual brokenness is often cited as the prime issue, but how much of that is related to a Pastor’s failure to appropriately process their pain? But even take out the sexual sins….and we can see over the past decade an uptick in Pastors being let go for, at minimum, failure to ‘read the signs’ of a Board or congregation and changing things too fast…and at worst being overly-controlling, fearful, or manipulative–all of which is related to EQ. In my view, we HAVE TO better prepare our Pastoral leaders in this area to help them flourish in their leadership, and for churches to flourish under their leadership.

  3. Adam Harris says:

    Ha, I have felt like that with books before too, still do at times. “This is the book that will change everything!” In reality each book is shaping me little by little and when I put it into practice, little by little I hopefully get 1% better everyday. (this was something our old company would say all the time).

    I love your NPO and can’t wait to hear more about it and what you are finding out along the way. So needed in not only Christian spaces, but the West in general.

  4. C’Mon Jennifer! Whoa! As expected, this is a deep post. But that one phrase stopped me from reading, “So I have developed a weird habit: when reading a piece of popular professional literature, I will try to figure out from where the underlying concepts may have sprung.” After reading it, I yelled out, “OOOOOHHHH!” Of course my family asked if I was okay. I told them, don’t worry, it’s Jennifer again. My daughter asked, Who’s Jennifer? LOL!
    That is an excellent idea, Jennifer because I wonder if many authors write about a topic because they have been through it or learned it the hard way. Anyway, I love the way you learn and process! 😊

    And now I have another book to place on my summer reading list, “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” Thanks again!

  5. Esther Edwards says:

    This semester took a different turn in my NPO as I researched in greater depth how wisdom is defined since this is something everyone aspires to as they age. Among some of the needed components are emotional intelligence as well as curiosity to cross new thresholds of learning. Both lend themselves to handling dissenting opinions with grace and humility.
    Yet, fear often dominates the differing views of not only today’s issues, but also on generational views of life.
    Even just today we met someone who was much younger who said that work was not worth their time and that it all played into capitalism. They’d rather just travel. My husband and I (the boomer generation of the hard work ethic) erred on the side of EI and just listened and asked questions. What we wanted to do was say “how in the world would anything work without hard work???”

    Jen, wouldn’t your future book be a great way to help link generations that don’t understand each other’s stances as well as just those who have differing opinions regarding issues? Excited to be on the front row of your project.

    Also, thanks again for getting together. Made my day!

Leave a Reply