Lead Strong Book Sample

By Phil Rasmussen

Chapter 12: Love and Emotional Stability

Love is the foundation of all twenty-six character outcomes. Paul says that love should be put on over all the virtues, as it is the fruit that binds all the others together in perfect unity (Col. 3:14). The character quality of emotional stability is connected to the fruit of love in a Spirit-guided leader.

Love can be defined as building up and meeting the needs of another person without expecting anything in return. Judith K. Balswick and Jack O. Balswick highlight the active nature of love: “Love is an art to be practiced, and it requires discipline, concentration, patience and supreme concern. When people start ‘working at love,’ the noticeable active elements will include behaviors like giving, caring, responsibility, respect and knowledge.”i When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He modeled what it means to love (John 13:1–17). Judas had already betrayed Him, but instead of showing anger, Jesus expressed love. He demonstrated real love, even though He was about to be betrayed, denied, and crucified. Scripture says it this way: “Jesus knew the hour had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (v. 1).

To express love even when it is countercultural, we must be fully aware of and in control of our emotions. This requires emotional stability. An emotionally stable leader can determine the best response to a situation, even when that response contradicts his or her initial emotional reaction. A loving response does not necessarily mean no response; instead, it is a response that turns the circumstances into something better than they were originally.ii Solomon wisely said, “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end” (Prov. 29:11).

Leadership Quality: Emotional Stability

The topic of emotional stability has been extensively studied. Research indicates that understanding our emotional responses is more important than knowing our IQ.iii Emotional stability and the ability to handle our feelings determine our success and happiness in all walks of life. Emotional stability includes the ability to control impulses, delay gratification, and self-motivate, as well as read people’s social cues and handle the ups and downs of life.

William M. Struther’s research indicates that the neurological circuitry responsible for intellect and the system responsible for emotion are interwoven.iv For example, when an emergency occurs, the emotional center, or the limbic system, takes over the rest of the brain. This physiological takeover prompts us to fight, flee, or freeze. The amygdala, the portion of the brain that triggers emotion, is a limbic brain structure. It remains constantly alert to emergency situations and has the capacity to take over the rational center of the neocortex when action is needed. Emotions such as jealousy, pride, contempt, and fear, as well as other disorders such as hypersexuality from viewing pornography, posttraumatic stress, and anxiety disorders, affect rational processing because the active amygdala is doing its job to navigate perceived emotional threats.v When we are, for example, facing political dynamics in the workplace or navigating a domestic dispute, the amygdala begins to take over the prefrontal area of the brain, which is the executive processing center. The prefrontal cortex analyzes the information from all parts of the brain and makes decisions regarding responses. Without a prefrontal filter, emotional hijacking can result, wherein the amygdala reacts excessively and inappropriately to the circumstances. The prefrontal zone circuitry has failed to keep emotional impulses in check.vi

Emotional stability and emotional competency are increasingly important for today’s leadership.vii Understanding the function of the brain is key to controlling our emotional responses to circumstances. As leaders react to daily operations, it is imperative to organizational and relational health that they can maintain healthy emotional responses under pressure. Failure to do so may result in expending precious energy restoring unhealthy workplaces and relationships.

Since love is a highly emotional character quality, it must be guarded using wisdom and stewardship. An unhealthy amygdala could be easily reinforced by out-of-control emotions and/or activities. We must choose to love other people, which is best done with a healthy amygdala and by developing emotional stability.

Researcher and therapist John Gottman identifies five steps that help us develop positive emotional control. First, we must be aware of our emotions. In other words, we must recognize what different emotions feel like and learn to identify those feelings when we have them. This not only produces sensitivity to our own feelings but also increases our ability to identify emotions in other people. Second, we should recognize emotions as opportunities for intimacy and teaching. Parents or mentors can teach empathy and love by connecting with their child or mentee, recognizing the emotional challenges they are going through. They can create space to work through failed relationships, academic struggles, betrayal in friendships, spiritual challenges, or other negative experiences. Third, we must learn to demonstrate positive emotional feedback by listening empathetically and validating others’ feelings. The validation process of empathic listening is vital for the development of emotional stability. Fourth, we must help people label their emotions as they occur. Providing words to help people define their feelings puts boundaries around the emotion and makes it a normal part of life. Fifth, we must have healthy limits around problem solving for others. The natural tendency for a mentor or parent is to solve a problem for the struggling child or mentee. However, the goal is to move the struggling person into a place where he or she not only recognizes the emotional tension but also develop his or her own problem-solving skills. Leaders give a great gift when they teach people to self-diagnose emotions and use problem-solving skills.viii

Chapter 12: Love and Emotional Stability

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