Emotional Intelligence

How to Use Emotional Intelligence when Leading Volunteers

Effective leaders know how to connect well with people, listen, resolve conflict, and speak in a way that others can understand. Not everyone is able to do this.

In the context of nonprofit work and church ministry the skills I’ve listed above are even more important since most of the people being led are volunteers. Because of this, leaders need to be extremely good at motivating, guiding, and encouraging the people they lead within their nonprofit or church.

Those intangible skills of leadership can be categorized into what is called “Emotional Intelligence.” In today’s post I share what Emotional Intelligence is and how you can use it to be a better leader.

How to Use Emotional Intelligence When Leading Volunteers

Photo Credit: Tristan Martin

I. What is IQ?

A. IQ Stands for “Intelligence Quotient” measured by two components:

1. Verbal Side: Verbal comprehension and working memory.
2. Performance Segment: Perceptual organization and processing speed.

B. These two elements measure someone’s capacity to:

1. Act purposefully.
2. Think rationally.
3. Deal effectively.

C. IQ uses a bell curve which places the average person at 100

1. 68 percent of the adult population falls between 85 and 115.
2. Genius is 140 or above.
3. Mentally challenged is 70 or below.

D. The concept of IQ was originally developed by David Wechsler.

II. What is EI?

These two videos feature Daniel Goleman describing Emotional Intelligence. I also have outlined the elements of Emotional Intelligence below the videos in text.

(If you cannot see this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.)

(If you cannot see this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.)

A. The catalyst of Emotional Intelligence was Howard Gardner’s manifesto against IQ, Frames of Mind: The Theories of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983, 3rd edition 2011).

1. This book proposed that there was more than just one type of intelligence (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, pp. 37-39).

More than just one type of intelligence meant that someone’s “knowledge” was not always the most important factor when distinguishing his or her ability to do work, manage life, etc.

2. This eventually led to the idea that “great leadership works through the emotions” (Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 3).

Eventually this concept of “emotional intelligence” made its way into the business world where people began to realize that effective leaders and managers must use emotional intelligence to perform well. Furthermore, some researchers within this field have found that the most successful leaders often score the highest on the emotional intelligence tests.

B. “Emotional Intelligence” is measured by two categories:

(This material has been summarized from Goleman, Bayatzis, and McKee, Primal Leadership, 39).

1. Personal Competence: How we manage ourselves.

A) Self-Awareness

Emotional Self-Awareness
These are things like reading your own emotions, recognizing the impact of those emotions on yourself, or using the “gut” feeling to guide decisions.

Accurate Self-Assessment
These are things like knowing your own strengths and limits.

This is a sound sense of self-worth and belief in your own abilities.

B) Self-Management

Emotional Self-Control
This is keeping disruptive emotions and impulses under control.

Displaying honesty, integrity, and showing trustworthiness is what constitutes transparency.

Being flexible to adapt to situations as well as overcome obstacles.

This is a person’s drive to improve performance as a way to meet his or her inner standards of excellence.

The readiness and preparedness a person has to act and seize opportunities.

The ability to see the upside of all events.

2. Social Competence: How we manage relationships.

A) Social Awareness

This is someone sensing others’ emotions, understanding their perspective, as well as taking an active interest in the concern of others.

Organizational Awareness
As things happen some people can read the “currents” of what is going on, recognize the decision networks, as well as notice politics that occur at the organizational level.

Being able and willing to recognize and meet the needs of clients or followers.

Daniel Goleman describes this area of “social awareness” also as “Social analysis—being able to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns. This knowledge of how others feel can lead to an easy intimacy or sense of rapport. At its best, this ability makes one a competent therapist or counselor—or, if combined with some literary talent a gifted novelist or dramatist” (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 118).

B) Relationship Management

Inspirational Leadership
Being able to guide, lead, and motivate people with a compelling vision.

Using not just one but a variety of methods of persuasion.

Developing Others
Providing feedback and guidance to others as a way to improve their abilities.

Change Catalyst
This person initiates, manages, and leads others in a new direction.

Conflict Management
Disagreements are going to happen, and this area looks at a person’s ability to resolve those disagreements with others.

Building Bonds
This is creating relationships with others.

Teamwork and Collaboration
Working with others, building a team, and good cooperation.

Those who are high in Emotional Intelligence are very aware of how they are perceived by others, are able to navigate situations/perceptions/social situations, and are most helpful in conflict situations.

While intrapersonal intelligence focuses on our ability to understand, articulate, and be aware of what’s going on inside of us (self-awareness), interpersonal intelligence (relationship skills) allow us to navigate the realm of relationships with ease and facility. Again, we know from personal experience and observation that sheer intellectual brilliance does not necessarily reflect expertise in the intrapersonal and interpersonal realms.
Wilson, “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Missing in So Many Churches and Christian,” p. 3, emphasis mine

C. Therefore, Emotional Intelligence is not based on “how much someone knows.”

D. Knowledge is not the issue. It is how that person has interacted with you and how that person has made you feel.

III. Using EI as a Leader of Volunteers Means

The effectiveness of a manager depends on his or her flexibility to respond appropriately to varying situations and diverse people. . . it is essential to be genuinely sensitive to what is appropriate based on the situation and the people involved.
Marlene Wilson, The Effective Management of Volunteer Programs, p. 27

A. Being sensitive to people

1. Adapting and changing quickly based on volunteers’

A) moods
B) motivations
C) personality
D) age/generation

Volunteer managers are chameleons. We adapt and change quickly. We know what tone to take and can switch from light-hearted to serious in a moment as the situation warrants.
Meridian, “Management 601”

2. Being fair and equitable in how we treat volunteers with

A) rewards
B) appreciation
C) criticism
D) feedback

Leaders must be fair with all volunteers, paying attention to how special treatment is allocated and perceived by all involved. Leaders must recognize that each volunteer is unique and has some special skill set or knowledge to offer in his/her own way. The key to maximizing this relationship is to respect each member’s unique potentials and contributions to construct a shared trust.
Jeffery Camplin, ”Volunteers Leading Volunteers,” p. 37

3. An example of how to use EI to be nice

Occasionally a family will not want a volunteer to come back. “She talks too much,” or “we just don’t get along,” or “he isn’t the type to enjoy my Dad’s jokes,” are just a few of the really benign reasons a family may not want the volunteer to come back. Did I pass that along to the volunteer? Nope, I like Jeff, shielded the volunteer from the non pleasantries of being dismissed due to a perceived character flaw. One volunteer innocently shared a personal story with a family and they were insulted. Their social worker told me that this family was highly sensitive and assured me that the volunteer did nothing wrong. I told the volunteer that the family found help elsewhere and that we would reassign him to a new family that needed his considerable talents more. (Meridian, “Little Gray Lies,”

B. Being sensitive to situations

Volunteer managers are expert mediators. We are the middle men in almost every assignment. We negotiate between clients and volunteers, and volunteers and staff. We quickly learn the art of persuasion, and the ability to deliver a negative message without hurting feelings. We are skilled at compromise to get the jobs done.
Meridian, “Management 601”

1. Noticing what motivates volunteers.

Essential to using Emotional Intelligence to effectively lead volunteers means you need to notice what motivates them. You need to see what things encourage the volunteers to do a great job and what discourages them. You need to not just pay attention to what volunteers say verbally but you need to notice what they are saying implicitly. Look for the volunteers’ facial expressions, breathing, work speed, etc.

2. Noticing how volunteers’ motivations change over time and how that might mean they want to do something different.

In an earlier blog post I shared that volunteers’ motives change over time. At first volunteers volunteer because they want to make a difference in the community or in an organization, but over time volunteers volunteer because of personal reasons (making relationships with other volunteers, perks they receive as a result of the volunteer experience, etc.)

How Motivations of Volunteers Change Over Time

3. An example of how to use EI to be tough

One day, I had to counsel a volunteer on her behavior. This was a volunteer who worked on Sunday in a hospice house. As we all know, weekends are harder to fill than weekdays, so really, weekend volunteers pretty much have to set fire to the joint to get fired. This was not the first time I had heard a complaint about this volunteer’s behavior. . . . Having to do the right thing is never easy. I reached back and straightened my spine and spoke frankly to the volunteer and to my surprise she did not quit. She took the criticisms seriously and promised to curb her brusque nature. But, did she actually change? Yes, not completely and not right away, but the complaints stopped. As I checked in with weekend staff on her progress, I found that she was honestly trying. I added a call to commend her for her efforts and after a time, she and the staff forged their own relationship. It took extra work, but it was the right thing to do, not only for our patients, but for staff and the volunteer as well. (Meridian, “Little Gray Lies,”

IV. An Example of EI in Action

A great example of how to use Emotional Intelligence is a situation I had with a volunteer named Laura (not her real name). Laura had done some great work at United Way for more than a year. She worked in the front office reception area and often helped me send out thank you letters, staple flyers with pledge forms, and other miscellaneous but helpful and important duties.

One day someone delivered a five gallon bucket of coins to our office he had retrieved from the waterfall in our local mall. It was a donation we could use to fund our programs in the community. The bucket had lots of coins that had been in the water for a long time and had been stained and covered with minerals from the water. So I placed the bucket next to Laura’s desk with a note asking her to clean the coins and roll them up for the bank.

I was surprised to hear Laura say, “I’m not going to do that.” Even though she had always done the work I requested of her with delight and a good attitude, this task was something she had decided she was not going to to. I shared why it was important for her to roll the coins, but she replied back that she was’t going to do the work.

As a result I was placed in a situation where I had a couple of options. One option was to force her to do the work saying that she is a volunteer, I’m the boss, and she has to do what I say. The result of this would likely have been that she would quit as a volunteer since she knew I did not have the authority to make her do what I asked. Another option was to let this task go and not force her to do the work. She had always been so helpful to me and our organization it would have been easy to let her tell me “no” and find someone else to do the work.

This scenario and the options it presented for me are a good example of Emotional Intelligence. I could have done one thing, but how would that have have effected my relationship with Laura? How would that have effected my interactions with her in the future? Would it have caused her to quit? Would she have decided she wanted to work with someone else because working with me was too stressful?

Question: What are some scenarios where you used Emotional Intelligence or wish you would have used Emotional Intelligence? How would you handle it differently based on what we have learned?

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at