Does Your Emotional Force Field Attract or Push Others Away?

In Miss Pickens’s third-grade class at Glen Oaks Elementary School in Fairfield, Alabama, I performed the first of many science experiments. As a full-fledged geek, I looked forward to those experiment days. One day Miss Pickens gave each of us a small, rectangular magnet about the size of a stick of gum, a sheet of white paper and a small container filled with metal filings. She told us to place the magnet on our wooden desks and then place the paper over it. Then she instructed us to slowly pour the metal filings on the paper. Magically, the metal filings clumped into semi-circular shapes at each end of the magnet. She then explained that those filings aligned themselves with the unseen magnetic force fields radiating from each end of the magnet. Thus I learned about the concept of force fields. In the same way every leader and pastor carries with him or her their own emotional force fields.

You’ve probably met people that carry around a magnetic, attracting one. My wife does. She loves people, and people immediately sense that. They feel drawn to her because her personality and caring persona invite interaction. One the other hand, I’ve known people that carry around an emotional field that pushes people away. It doesn’t take much interaction for me to feel uncomfortable or even repelled by such people.

Neuroscience describes a process called theory of mind that enables us, to some extent, to intuit the emotional and mental state of somebody else. When we notice someone’s body language and eye movements, we subconsciously can sense his emotional state and whether he is for or against us. Although not foolproof, this ability helps us pick up on subtle cues from others and “read” their emotional force field, whether it draws us to them or pushes us away.

An episode in the book of Ruth illustrates the idea of force fields.

When the women in Bethlehem first saw Naomi years after she had left with her husband, they were shocked at what they sensed in her. Her name, which meant “pleasant,” no longer described her countenance. Instead, her losses in the previous decade had led left their mark, and the women immediately sensed it. No longer “pleasant,” she asked them to call her Mara, which means “bitter­­ness” (Ruth 1: 19-20).

In a similar fashion, I would often sense the mode of a leader in a former church (I’ll call him Jake), simply by looking at him. He would sometimes come into a meeting with an emotional field that screamed, “I’m in a bad mood, and I’m going to resist everything you say.” His entire persona telegraphed his adversarial mood.

In contrast, I recall another leader in a former church that always carried an emotional field that said, “Charles, I am for you and with you. I support you.”

When we step into another’s emotional field, it does affect us. We often function in unhealthy ways in response to these fields. When I sensed the adversarial leader’s mood (Jake), I would often subconsciously tense up. My anxiety level would rise, and I would put myself on guard for fear of being hurt in some way. As a result, I could not think as clearly and would easily become defensive.

On the other hand, when I sensed the other leader’s affirmative mood, I felt safe. I could be myself, listen and be fully present for her.

This experience parallels how the poles of magnets either repel or attract each other. Difficult church conditions often give rise to repelling emotional fields that can cause conflict, personality clashes and distance. When we find ourselves in these adversarial fields, we must draw deeply from our spiritual resources, as Nehemiah did that we see in the book named after him.

Instead of disconnecting, powering up or reacting, we must stay calmly connected to that person. Our responses significantly affect the emotional fields of others in a positive or a negative way. When we keep our cool in the face of conflict, we think more clearly and can actually moderate the person’s or the group’s overall anxiety.

Consider Canada geese, for example. When I lived in Chicago, I’d often jog in the fall near a field packed with resting geese. When I ran near them, inevitably one would crane its neck, look at me and stand up, which caused the rest of the flock to do the same in a ripple effect. The one goose’s “anxiety” fed the others’. But after I ran by (unless for fun I ran at them), that initial goose would lower its neck and sit down, which cued the rest of the flock to follow. Its anxiety, or lack of it, affected the entire flock.

That’s how it works in churches and organizations. It travels from person to person in groups. If a pastor or leader brings his anxiety into a staff meeting (or a church service), it likely causes everybody else’s anxiety to rise as well. Likewise, if he relates to others with calm instead of anxious­ness, they mirror his calmness. As Margaret Marcuson writes,

“When a leader is clear, calm, and confident, people find their own confidence increased, and they are more likely to follow.”  (Leaders Who Last, Kindle loc. 815)

Calmly connecting does not mean we never get emotional or show passion. Nor does it imply we should become best friends with our critics. Roberta Gilbert explains it this way:

“If the leader can make a more frequent contact with difficult people (notwithstanding the fact that we all want to distance from them) they will often settle down. These contacts don’t have to be large amounts of time, they simply need to take place. And, sometimes, they don’t need to be about issues. Contact simply needs to be made.” (Extraordinary Leadership: Thinking Systems Make a Difference, Falls Church, VA: Leading Systems Press, 2009, p. 136)

So managing our emotional force fields is key to leading well.

How has your emotional force field, whether positive or negative, affected those you lead?

Taken by permission from People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone (Kindle Locations 2003-2029). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Emotionally Anxious Leaders: 8 Signs

My dad was an electrical engineer and filled his shop in our basement with the most amazing gizmos. Transistors, capacitors, transformers, electrical tools and every conceivable gadget lined the shelves and entertained me for hours. My favorite gadget was a neon sign transformer. A transformer is a device that either steps up or steps down current. The metal green box in a yard down your street or the cylindrical container on a telephone pole near your house is a transformer that steps down high-voltage power to 220 volts that comes into your house. So what does a transformer have to to with an emotionally anxious leader? Read on.

With my dad’s neon sign transformer, I made what is called a Jacob’s ladder. I attached two three-foot wires to the leads on each side, and bent the wires into a V. When I plugged it in, a multi-thousand volt spark started at the bottom of the V and arced to the top. In this case, the transformer stepped up the household current to over two thousand volts. My Jacob’s ladder created lots of really cool sparks that appealed to my geekish interests. And I got shocked by it only once.

A leader is like a transformer. By his responses, he can either defuse an emotional setting like a heated board meeting or can act like a step-up transformer by reacting and increasing anxiety, thus causing lots of not-so-cool sparks, as we leaders often do. Through a calm presence with emotional people, a leader can act like an emotional step-down transformer, decreasing the group’s anxiety by letting it pass through him without getting zapped.

Sometimes as leaders, however, we can characterize emotionality and anxiety one-dimensionally as defensiveness. But chronic anxiety, the low level anxiety we seem to never shake, fuels emotionality and shows up in eight ways that I call “the eight Fs of chronic anxiety.” It manifests itself differently in different people. As you read the list below, consider which F tempts you the most.

  • Fight: emotionally reacting and becoming defensive (how we usually describe emotionality)
  • Flee: emotionally or physically cutting off from others in anxious situations
  • Freeze: not knowing what to do, thus not taking a position; offering no opinion and/ or staying neutral when you should take a position
  • Fuse: losing your identity by glomming on to others’ wants and desires, compromising convictions, seeking unity at all costs and/ or trying to force everybody to be one big, happy family
  • Fixate: easily getting triangled into unhealthy relationships and conflict
  • Fix: overperforming to fix somebody else’s problems or doing for others what they should do for themselves
  • Flounder: becoming passive, underperforming, or giving up
  • Feed/ fornicate/ finances: inappropriately yielding to base impulses by turning to food, illicit sex/ pornography or inappropriate use of money

When we are tempted to deal with our anxiety with one of the 8 F’s, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions. He wept when he heard that Lazarus had died. He became angry at the temple moneychangers. He felt a heavy heart in the garden of Gethsemane. Yet his behavior reflected anything but anxious reactivity.

Jesus’ response to his enemies throughout his trial and crucifixion, as 1 Peter 2: 23 illustrates, continues to amaze me.

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Every time I recall this verse, I stand in awe. Although Jesus possessed God’s power to destroy his detractors, he didn’t. Rather, he leaned into his heavenly Father to respond appropriately to hardship. Likewise, as we lean into our heavenly Father, he gives us what we need to say no to reactivity and dealing with our anxiety in unhealthy and sinful ways.

The Bible tells us that the Lord has given us everything we need to live a godly life. Second Peter 1: 3 is so powerful as it encourages us with these words.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

God has crafted our bodies and brains, our souls and minds, and our regenerated hearts with the capability to cool our emotions in the midst of emotionality. Acting calmly when tempted to do otherwise glorifies him.

What has helped you deal with anxiety that ministry often brings?

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Used by permission. Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2415-2432). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Are you Looking at Leadership through Rose Colored Glasses?

Sometimes a book comes across my desk that catches my attention with a unique angle on leadership. My friend, Tom Harper, just wrote one. It’s called Through Colored Glasses–how great leaders reveal reality. It’s written as a leadership fable and quite insightful. I highly recommend it. I asked Tom if I could ask him some questions about the book and here are his answers.

What prompted you to write Through Colored Glasses?

Anyone who’s been a leader has observed how people misunderstand each other, withhold information, and manipulate others to get ahead. There’s a widespread lack of honesty in workplaces (including churches).

I wrote this book to give leaders a tool to fight this trend. The story’s main lessons center on how to wield the power of truth in the office – not just by being honest and transparent, but by utilizing concepts and techniques found in the Bible to pull truth out of people.

I believe if you understand and apply the biblical principles this story teaches, you’ll reveal reality all around you, every day. As a result, you’ll be a much more effective leader.

Explain the essence of the book reflected in the title.

You’ve probably heard the saying “he wears rose-colored glasses,” describing a person that’s always optimistic, even to the point of naiveté. It’s as if they ignore reality.

Through Colored Glasses describes how most of us see the world – through lenses that are anything but rosy. We’ve got a cloud of emotions, moods and thoughts coloring our views.

When we look at each other through those off-color lenses, what do we see? We tend to interpret each other’s words and actions according to our own biases, rather than trying to understand the other person from their point of view.

Why did you choose to use a fable as the core of the book?

For me, story has always been an effective teacher, whether it’s through leadership fables by Patrick Lencioni and Ken Blanchard, biographies, true-life dramas or even novels. Plus, I’m always intrigued when a conference speaker tells his or her personal story, sharing the hard lessons they’ve learned.

As I strategized this book project, I realized the most poignant and memorable way for me to teach what I’ve learned would be through a story that brings the concepts to life.

Many nonfiction books today could be half as lengthy, without losing any meat. With this in mind, I kept this book to 100 or so pages. You can read it on a plane trip. I tried to make it fast-moving all the way to the climax, where the main lessons come into focus.

You mention filters and facades we deal with. How does a leader discover unfiltered reality in the heart of another, and in himself or herself?

One way to improve our ability to understand what someone’s thinking is to get to know the person. As leaders, though, we can’t intimately know everyone under our care.

To remedy this, we can tap the Bible’s great wisdom for understanding the motivations behind people’s words and actions. It gives us cues to watch for. I’ll give you two examples.

First, Proverbs 15:13 says, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” Simply assessing someone’s countenance can alert us there’s something significant going on behind the scenes, urging us to move forward with sensitivity.

Another example is listening for verbal signals. Two of my favorite verses on this are also from Proverbs:

  • “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin” (Prov. 10:8).
  • “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly” (Prov. 12:23).

In other words, you can gauge a person’s overall wisdom by how much they respect authority and use word economy. If someone constantly announces what they think, their overall judgment is questionable. Giving them greater responsibility probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

We can apply these verses to ourselves, of course. Listen to yourself in your next few conversations. At any point are you defensive, impatient or unusually verbose? At that moment, assess what’s going on in your heart.

When I listen to myself speak, I often hear internal struggles coming through. It reminds me to entrust my worries to God – he wants us to lean on him at all times, even as words are coming out of our mouths.

What is the biggest takeaway in your book for leaders?

After more than two decades of reading leadership books and holding them up to the Bible, I’m convinced that biblical principles undergird just about all the leadership best practices you’ll come across.

So, my #1 takeaway would simply be to read the Bible for yourself, and do what it says!

___

I recommend you add this book to your reading list. You can purchase it here on Amazon.

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11 Ways to Use Email to Make Things Worse

Email has become endemic to our culture. Without it, it would be difficult to communicate as much as it seems that ministry and the marketplace require. I receive scores of emails every day and I know some pastors and leaders who get over 100. YIKES! It can be a useful tool if used correctly. But it can also be a deadly tool if used poorly. If you want to make matters worse with people you know or within your organization or church, these 12 practices will definitely get the results you want.

  1. When you are emotionally charged about something or someone, fire off your email right then. Make sure you are honest in what you say. Share your true feelings. Remember, honesty is the best policy.
  2. If you want to add emotion to your email to emphasize your point, WRITE YOUR EMAIL IN ALL CAPS. IT IS THE BEST WAY TO MIMIC A REAL SCREAM, ONLY YOU ARE USING PIXELS.
  3. To further make a point, use an exclamation point! Even better, use lots of them!!!!!!!!!
  4. Never, never, never let someone objective read a difficult email before you send it. Remember, honesty is the best policy and you would not want anyone to edit out your honesty.
  5. It’s best to send email in sticky situations rather than calling someone or meeting them face to face. That way, you save precious time at the moment, even though your email may be misunderstood. If it’s misunderstood, it’s the recipient’s fault.
  6. Always assume that people who read your emails will perfectly understand what you intended to say. After all, it is in black and white.
  7. Make sure that your emails are long enough so that the reader has to scroll down to read the entire email. After all, you took the time to write it. The other person should take the time to read it.
  8. When you need something, don’t write “please” in the email or the reader may think you don’t mean business. Just demand it.
  9. When you get an email sent to several people, use “reply all” so that everybody gets to read your email.
  10. If someone does not respond back to your email in a timely manner, assume that they are a slovenly slob. Never assume that the email could have gotten blocked, accidentally sent to the junk file, or inadvertently trashed.
  11. Don’t believe the email golden rule: Type unto others what you would have them type unto you.

What email practices have you discovered that makes matters worse?

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8 Ways Pastors can Refresh Their Tired Souls

Peter Drucker, one of the world’s greatest leadership experts, once listed what he considered the four hardest jobs in the world. Here are those four: President of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital, and a pastor. Wow, strong words from a wise man. Although I’ve not held the first three jobs, I have served as a pastor for over 35 years. It can be tough and pastors must care for their souls. Consider these 8 ways to refresh your tired soul.

  1. Do something totally different from ministry. Often pastors spend even their free time on ministry related pursuits and thoughts. Consider doing something totally different from the ministry vein. I once took improv classes I found very refreshing to my soul.
  2.  Be okay with taking care of you. Pete Scazzero, most known for emotionally healthy spirituality, learned this the hard way and wrote these words.
    • “The degree to which you love yourself corresponds to the degree to which you love others. Caring for ourselves was difficult for us to do without feeling guilty. We unwittingly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the gospel meant dying to marital intimacy and joy in life. We had died to something God had never intended we die to.” (www.christianity today.com/le/1998/winter/8l1063.html)
  3. Keep healthy boundaries with others. A boundary is a line that helps define those things for which we are responsible. They define who we are and who we are not; when properly managed they can bring us great freedom with others in our churches. I recommend Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestseller Boundaries for better understanding.
  4. Lighten up and laugh more often (not at others’ expense, though). Current research on how humor affects leadership has discovered that the most effective leaders use humor more often than less effective ones. (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 34).
  5. Build relationships with no ministry purpose in mind. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible paraphrase said…
    • “Pastors can lose touch with relational vitality when their relationships are driven by programmatic necessity. When this happens, pastors can lose the context for love, hope, faith, touch, and a kind of mutual vulnerability. In the midst of the congregation, pastors become lonely and feel isolated-and that isolation can be deadly to the pastoral life. Those are the conditions in which inappropriate intimacies flourish.” (http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=3280)
  6. Take care of your body through exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
  7. Master technology, don’t let it master you. I’m a techno geek. I was one of the original Mac owners and I use an iPhone and an iPad. I love electronic gadgets. I’m on Facebook. I tweet, text, e-mail, and blog. I’ve found, however, that technology can easily enslave me. It’s a battle yet when I control my technology, I’m more at peace. Interestingly, research has shown that the average worker is interrupted every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus back on his job. I found that to be generally true in my life when I compulsively check e-mail.
  8. Periodically take a solo retreat. Occasionally I’ve taken a night and a day at a local retreat center. I’m usually the only one there. When I go, I think, pray, plan, write, and study. Those periodic getaways refresh my soul and help break me from the rigors of ministry, resetting my focus to respond appropriately to the stresses ministry brings.

What has helped add life to your soul as a pastor?

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