The Principle of Leadership Connection

   "A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink". 


The lady described in this story from John 4 is unknown to us. We don't know her name. We only know that she was of a snubbed gender and a despised race. Yet Jesus connected with her. As we read the entire story, something remarkable transpires between Jesus and this unknown woman. Through Jesus interaction with the woman at the well we learn about the value of "connection", what some people call emotional intelligence. 

People don't connect well to frowning, intense, defensive leaders. A leader can only lead to the degree they can emotionally connect with people. A leader who is "out of touch" with how they come across to people, who lacks what is called "EQ", emotional intelligence, is limited in their effectiveness.

What is the biblical basis of the leadership principle of “connection”? We see it at work in how Jesus related to a broad spectrum of people. He connected to ordinary fisherman, tax collectors, religious officials, Roman officers, women caught in adultery, Mary and Martha when they blamed Jesus for the death of Lazarus, and his own very diverse team of apostles.

In the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, we see the principles of "connection" in action. We see in Jesus the ultimate example of emotional intelligence. Jesus reached over the walls of gender separation, racial prejudice, immoral behavior, theological difference, and initial personal rejection. Jesus did not rely on policies or religious practices to relate to her. He connected to her through wise and discerning personal interaction.

Jesus is our example in each of the following qualities of leadership connection. He connected with the woman at the well in order to minister to her. He was not being deceitful or manipulative; he was wise and patient, reaching out to her across the very real divide that separated them. Wise leaders today will learn to do the same.

Five components of leadership "connection" we can see in Jesus interaction with the woman at the well:

• Self-awareness. Jesus was fully aware of who he was and what he had to offer. He offered “living water”. He demonstrated the ability to recognize and understand his own drives and emotions and how they affect other people. Self-awareness involves self-confidence, realistic self-awareness, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. Can you picture a warm and wry smile on Jesus’ face as he tells this woman to go and call her “husband” and come back to him, knowing full well she had five husbands? Leaders with self-awareness are aware of their own moods but don’t allow those moods to disrupt relationships or control their attitudes or actions. 

• Self-regulation. Jesus had the ability to recognize and control his impulses. It says in John 4:4 says, “Jesus had to pass through Samaria”. It was the impulse of the Spirit that led him to pass through Samaria. Normally, Jews avoided Samaria. Jesus knew the difference between an impulse of the Spirit and an impulse of the flesh. Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence don’t allow their moods to disrupt their speech or actions, but rather they allow the Spirit to lead them. Self-aware and self-controlled leaders are not prisoners of their own personalities. Self-regulated leaders have the ability to suspend judgment before acting or speaking. This includes openness to change and comfort with ambiguity. As uncomfortable as it can be, it includes welcoming responses to constructive criticism and assessment of our leadership effectiveness. 

• Self-motivation. Self-motivated leaders are not dependent on church structures or other leaders to motivate them. Like Jesus, they are passionate about ministry and work for it's own value. They are filled with the Spirit and call daily upon the Spirit’s help to recharge and re-energize them. Jesus demonstrated self-initiative and the ability to pursue ministry goals he set for himself with great energy and persistence (he was not in competition with others – see John 4:1-3). Self-motivated leaders feed themselves spiritually from the Word and with prayer. They have to – they are pioneers. They cannot be dependent on others to prop them up or get them going each day.

• Healthy empathy. Jesus understood the emotional makeup of people. He was a student of human nature. He was highly empathetic with the woman at the well without losing objectivity. Emotionally intelligent people show empathy but they are not governed by it. Jesus demonstrated the ability to understand the emotional makeup of the woman at the well. He had compassion on her, but he didn’t allow that to keep him from confronting her sin and holding her responsible for her actions and choices. He acted responsibly to the woman, but he did not take responsibility for the woman. Healthy empathy is the skill of adjusting one’s responses according to people’s emotional reactions. If they over react, we don’t. If they leave us, we don’t attack them. If they rebel, we bless them. We respond in the opposite spirit. Healthy empathy involves the ability to attract and retain talented people in our endeavors, and to reach across cultural walls and barriers to build our teams and churches.

• Social-skill. Jesus demonstrated a unique ability to find common ground with people. He had not committed adultery. He was not a Samaritan. Yet he reached out to the Samaritan woman with grace. Social-skill is the ability to hear and not react to people with differing views or opinions. Leaders with social skill are proficient at building and maintaining networks of relationships beyond a cadre of close friends with similar backgrounds. Just as Jesus found common ground with the woman at the well by talking about water and asking for a drink, so leaders with social-skill have the ability to find common ground and build rapport with those they lead and work with. This skill includes efficiency in leading change, persuasiveness, and efficiency in building and leading teams. Those with social skill don’t lead with policies or procedures but with vision and biblical values.

From these five components flow such qualities as emotional warmth, listening attentively, smiling, encouragement and affirmation, genuine interest, faith in people, non-defensiveness, openness to new ideas and non-reactiveness. These are the qualities that enable a bridge of understanding and trust to be built from leaders to those they lead. It’s the leadership principle of connection at work. 

Why is the leadership principle of connection so important? You can't lead people you can't connect to. The five components of connection, when genuine, allow us to build a bridge of trust and understanding to people. That is the heart of “emotional intelligence”.

Great “connectors” have mentored me in my life. One of the greatest were the co-founders of Youth with a Mission, Loren and Darlene Cunningham. Again and again I was struck by how Loren and Darlene connected with people. In big crowds or small, they would focus on one individual at a time, smile warmly, ask them questions, hear their vision, and then challenge and encourage them to do something great for God. Loren and Darlene were both connectors.

When people felt led to leave YWAM, they blessed them. When young leaders came up with new and sometimes crazy visions for ministry, they listened with an open heart. Those strengths allowed Loren Darlene to build one of the largest missionary movements in the history of the church. It is no accident that YWAM is made up of leaders that are both young and old, men and women, and people of all cultures.

That is connecting at it’s best! I rarely saw Loren or Darlene react to people when they were disappointed in a decision a person made. They were masters at team building and retaining their teams. They showed great empathy no matter the situation. They both demonstrated exceptional emotional intelligence.

Loren and Darlene 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 they would give them an opportunity to do what they encouraged them to dream about. Even if it didn’t fit in with how they thought it should be done.

Great connectors are great opportunity providers! When people working with Loren and Darlene sought other avenues of Christian service, they didn't react or condemn them... they cheered them on in their dreams. They didn’t demand or manipulate people to join them, but inspired them with vision by "connecting" to their dreams. Many leaders today in business, government, church denominations, missionary organizations, and local churches can point to their experience in Youth With a Mission as life changing. Loren and Darlene set a DNA of connection that has built bridges to people in all walks of life.

I have reflected many times on the leadership skill of connection. I have assessed my own strengths and weaknesses in this regard, and asked others to help me do that. Why? I don’t want to close doors to those God wants me to lead. I want to grow in my skills as a connector to people.

I have concluded that “EQ” is not another worldly management fad, but a learned ability to connect wisely. It is a God-given ability that we can develop to serve God’s people effectively.