“The lady who has become known as the “woman at the well” is a mystery to us. We don’t know her name. We only know she was of a snubbed gender and a despised race. Yet Jesus connected with her and something remarkable transpired. Through this story, we learn about the value of connecting with others - this ability is sometimes called emotional intelligence. People don’t connect easily with frowning, emotionally sensitive, intense, defensive leaders. We can only lead to the degree that we can emotionally connect with people. Leaders who are out of touch with how they come across, who lack emotional intelligence, are limited in their effectiveness.
There are four components to leadership “connectedness” we can draw from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well:
1. Self-Awareness – Jesus was secure in His identity, which gave Him the confidence to step over racial and religious barriers to connect with the woman at the well. He recognized and understood His own moods and emotions and did not allow them to hinder His ability to connect with people. Put simply, He was aware of His own actions, words, and feelings, but focused on others. 2. Self-Management – Jesus was able to recognize and control any negative emotions or presumptions that had been passed on to Him regarding Samaritans. He was in control of His moods and impulses. Jesus was prepared to challenge the accepted norms of racial and gender separation that dominated the Jewish religion. Healthy leaders can self-manage their lives. They are not dependent on public opinion (or even close friends) to do the right thing for others. 3. Healthy Empathy – Jesus had the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people. He perceived the discomfort and guilt of the woman at the well. He had developed the character quality of relating to people according to their needs, rather than His own. 4. Social Skill – Jesus was proficient at building and maintaining relationships beyond the cadre of disciples. He enjoyed close relationship with the disciples, but was not dependent on them alone for friendship and company. He was accessible, non-exclusive, and truly cared about all people, not only His inner circle.
Why is the leadership lesson of connection and chemistry so important? Simply put, you cannot lead people you cannot relate to. Connection, when genuine, allows us to build bridges of trust and understanding to people who may be different from ourselves. We can provide emotional warmth, listen attentively, smile, offer encouragement and affirmation, show genuine interest, and display faith in people. It’s also important that we are not defensive and do not overreact in the face of adversity. By fostering the genuine desire to relate to others, we can develop chemistry with them, which makes them more willing to receive our leadership.
In the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, Jesus was able to make a connection by being willing to overcome barriers of gender, racial prejudice, immoral behavior, theological difference, and initial personal rejection. Let’s take a closer look at how Jesus fostered this connection: • He went out of His way to meet her (verse 4). • He initiated the conversation (verse 7). • He listened and allowed her to speak (verse 9). • He showed respect, regardless of her gender and status (verse 9). • He aroused spiritual interest in her by casting a vision for something greater than she had imagined (verses 10–15). • He entered into her world, that is, He built a bridge to her world (verses 13–24). • He did not try to control her or pressure her to join Him (verses 13–15). • He inspired her to go as far as she was willing to go in her spiritual journey (verses 15–18). • He accepted her where she was (verses 17–18). • He did not convey disappointment in her choices (verse 18). • He focused on key issues for her future (verses 20–24). • He communicated directly and simply to her, in language she could understand (verses 25–26).
Throughout my life, I have been mentored by some great “connectors.” One of the greatest was Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission. As I watched him in action, I was struck again and again by how Loren connected with people. In big crowds or small, he would focus on one individual at a time, smile warmly, ask them questions, and listen to them attentively. Then he would challenge and encourage them to do something great for God. That is connecting.
Loren planted the seeds of greatness and great achievement in the hearts of many young leaders by challenging them to go beyond what they had dreamed or thought of doing before that time. Then he would give them an opportunity to do what he had just encouraged them to dream about. He didn’t just inspire and walk away, he invested in the relationship and took the connection a step further. That is chemistry.
Step one in connecting with people is reaching across any perceived or real barriers. Take a few moments to reflect on the people you lead who are different from yourself. Think wider about those God wants you to influence who have not yet come to faith in Jesus. Are you actively working at reaching across age, gender, class, and racial barriers to connect with them? Think deeper as well as wider. Do you react if people give you advice you don’t like? Do you send the message that you want to listen attentively, learn from what people say to you, and are prepared to engage in deeper conversation?