I recently sat down with Noble Gibbens, a former Army Ranger who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, to chat about Emotional Intelligence (also known as EQ) and the impact of EQ on leadership. Since leaving the military, Noble has spent the past 20-plus years as an entrepreneur and has been involved with 10 different start-ups, ranging from Sales to Executive Coaching to Government Contracting.
He and I had a much longer conversation in a recent episode of the OCF Crosspoint podcast. The following article highlights many of the talking points and key parts of our podcast conversation. You can listen to that podcast interview here.
As Noble shared with me, EQ is not just about understanding and managing our own emotions, but it’s also about how we navigate and interact with the emotions of others. This ability becomes even more critical in high-stakes environments like the military, where decisions can have life-or-death consequences.
Consider the following statement from Dr. Amy Fraher, a retired U.S. Navy commander and aviator: “Recent social developments in our armed forces demand a different, more integrated leadership skill set than previous environments required. America’s military requires emotionally intelligent leaders who possess not only the ability to manage anxiety and frustrations, stay motivated and control impulses, but also the ability to keep fear and distress from swamping the ability to think. These emotional skills are critical to decision-making under conditions of stress.”
As you read this article or listen to the podcast, I encourage you to reflect on your own emotional intelligence and its impact on your leadership journey.
Josh: Noble, how did you get started on your EQ “journey of discovery”?
Noble: So, my mom is a 4’10” Hispanic lady. My dad was a big giant emergency room doctor. In our house growing up as a kid, we would yell and scream at each other. I had an awesome younger sister. We’d yell and scream at each other, stomp off in our respective corners of the house, come back an hour later, and act like nothing happened. So, I learned absolutely nothing about conflict resolution. Zero.
I learned that feelings and emotions were not going to be brought up or discussed, right? I felt a tremendous amount of intensity. In these conflict conversations that we would have at home, as the definition of conflict a lot of times in home does, I learned very early how to stuff and avoid. Well, what happens when you stuff and avoid your feelings and emotions as a kid? That turns into a lot of unhealthy stuff. For me, it turned into a truckload of emotional dysfunction that we can get into at some point. And I took all that emotional dysfunction to West Point, into my adulthood, and beyond. So, lots of emotional dysfunction.
Josh: Give a definition of emotional intelligence so that we have a good framework and context for where you’re coming from.
Noble: I’ve got three layers to how I define emotional intelligence. Kind of like big picture details, you know, lay out more of the bones and then more meat.
1. The highest level is getting your emotions to work for you instead of against you. That’s the smallest, simplest answer.
2. The next level of emotional intelligence is borrowed from Daniel Goleman, who’s an OG of emotional intelligence. He’s been writing on it for many decades. One of his early models of emotional intelligence focused on four main areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, social management.
3. The third level of definition of emotional intelligence is my definition of how I define emotional intelligence in my infantry term, so to speak: It is the ability to acknowledge, identify, process, and manage not only your emotions, but also the emotions of those around you so that you can make the best decision for all parties involved.
So here’s the reality. EQ has always, always been here. That’s how God designed it. It was new to me. Of course, I didn’t know any of this stuff until four or five years ago when I started my own emotional fitness program.
God made us with emotions. It’s part of our deal, but how many people, even churches, talk about emotions? How many people in the country, in the globe, have ever been trained in how to acknowledge, identify, process, and manage their own emotions? Very, very, very small percentage of people. And we wonder why there’s so much dysfunction and hurting people.
Well, nobody leaves their childhood unscathed emotionally. Whether you had a “Leave it to Beaver” childhood or a Jerry Springer childhood, no one leaves their childhood unscathed. And if we don’t deal with that, those unaddressed emotional issues don’t get better over time. They actually compound. So not only have emotions always been here because of how God designed us, but emotions will always, always be here as long as humans are around.
Josh: When we are talking about someone in a position of leadership, why does EQ matter?
Noble: I kind of liken it to this: I just went on a hunting trip, my first hunting trip ever in my life. Kodiak Island, Alaska. We were hunting for blacktail Sitka deer. So, we would bust out our binoculars and scan the horizon. When you bust out the binoculars, you can see exponentially more than what I can see with my bare eyes. I can see farther. I can see clearer. I can see in more detail.
Let’s take it another step—NODs, night vision devices. So let’s say there’s no loom—you know, moonlight—when you hit the ground, get your parachute all together, and head to your link up point with your troops. You can’t see anything. Well, you bust out your NODs. Now, I can see all kinds of stuff now.
EQ gives us the ability to see stuff that we normally wouldn’t as a leader. And for me as a leader, do I want to make a decision at night with no illumination and no NODs? Emotional intelligence is the NODs. The night vision devices that enable us to see things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
Josh: I think everyone has been prone to a variety of emotions—frustration or anger—at some point. When is that normal versus when does it reveal that maybe there is an EQ issue that needs to be addressed?
Noble: Excellent. Emotions are not good or bad. What are your stories? What’s your understanding of emotions? When I see the word emotions, what are the corresponding words and stories and narratives that come up when you hear the word emotions? For 99 percent of the dudes that I have asked that question to, it’s negative—anything about emotion. Emotions are weak. Emotions are bad. Emotions will screw up your decision-making process. None of it is positive.
As men, specifically, many men have some very negative stories about emotions (of course, women can have the same stories, too), but what are you coming into that environment with to realize that?
Experiencing emotions is not bad. That is part of the human experience that God has created us with. Just read the Bible and look for instances of emotions. It will blow your mind what you discover and how it enriches your reading experience and your understanding of who God is.
However, here’s when you might need help. If you have an expression or behavior that is unhealthy, unproductive, or harmful to yourself or others, then that might be a sign, especially if it happens more than once, that you need some work in this area.
Josh: What are some of the traits of low EQ?
Noble: So, let me give you my list of emotional dysfunction that was a result of my low EQ based on my upbringing and my childhood, which is another little side note. One of the principles of EQ is everybody develops their emotional foundation in their childhood. Everybody. And here’s the crazy thing: that process starts before we can even speak.
Josh: But EQ can be learned and developed, right?
Noble: 100%. EQ is a skill. It’s not like IQ or your height—you’re never going to grow six inches after you become an adult. But EQ is not like that. EQ is a skill. And again—praise the Lord—because the emotional clue bus used to drive by my house and I would just wave and I never got on. Fortunately, I got on the bus a couple of years ago. By God’s grace.
Let me give you a list of some of the traits and qualities that are a reflection, a possible reflection of low EQ. And this is my list of my own personal emotional dysfunctions. I was emotionally needy, I was emotionally codependent, I was a food addict (that one I’m still working on), I was a people-pleaser addict (still working on that, too), positivity as a coping mechanism, I was chronically late, chronically forgetful, chronically unorganized, chronic procrastinator, chronic over sleeper, depression, suicidal tendencies, ADD, ADHD, self-condemnation, self-sabotage, self-hatred, insecure, indecisive, no self-awareness, no self-management, hairpin trigger for anger, no boundaries personally or professionally, never stood up for myself, I always caved.
I was constantly looking for validation and approval. I had a fear of success, fear of money, praise and hatred were all-consuming, no self-worth, no self-esteem, a stuffer and avoider of emotions … and that’s just to name a few.
However, I would argue that probably 90 to 95 percent of those have been healed, with the other 5 to 10 percent I’m still actively working on. I’m sure that there are other areas that God hasn’t revealed that are on this list that I still have to work on that will be revealed when I’m further into the journey.
Josh: Talk about EQ as it pertains to Scripture. How does EQ line up with what the Bible teaches?
Noble: Great question: what’s the biblical validity of emotions? Are there emotions in God’s word? When I spoke to the staff at Spring Canyon at the beginning of the summer, one of the exercises that I had them do was go through God’s word and pick a Psalm, a verse from Proverbs, or wherever, and circle every time you see an expression of or an actual descriptor of emotion.
Look at David. One day he’s like rainbows and unicorns. The next day, the dude is crying and sobbing like a little baby. So absolutely, there is biblical validity to emotions. And then Jesus, right? Jesus wept. Jesus got angry.
Does God smile? What makes God happy? Go to John 15. One of my tattoos, I know the audience can’t see me, but one of my tattoos on my knuckles is “abide.” In John 15:1-10, Jesus says 10 times in 10 verses to abide. Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when we abide with God, that that makes Him happy.
That makes Him feel some kind of way. That He has some emotions that pop off when His children abide with him.
Josh: Let’s talk about some key takeaways. Someone’s reading the text of this conversation and they say, “Great, I like what you’re saying, but after hearing the conversation as a listener, what can I go out and do today?” What actionable steps do you recommend that someone can take now?
Noble: I frame it in a concept called GAPED.
G is gratitude. Express gratitude. There’s a lot of research on this, and here’s the basic concept. If you express gratitude three minutes or so a day for three days a week, it is the equivalent of taking a medication that’s supposed to make you feel good.
It actually affects you chemically and physiologically by concentrating and focusing on gratitude three minutes a day, three days a week. You know, go read the Psalms; there are several, 84, 89, and others where it’s nothing but gratitude. Give thanks. That’s number one. That’s something that you can begin doing immediately.
The A is Acknowledge the emotions that you’re feeling. I needed help with this one because I knew a whopping like three or four emotions—happy, angry, sad, mad, done. Now, five years later, thankfully, I have grown significantly.
One of the assessments of one’s emotional intelligence is how many words for emotions do you know? Literally, your emotional vocabulary is an assessment of where your emotional intelligence is. A tool to help with acknowledging your emotions is called an emotion wheel. If you go to Google, look up emotion wheel, and it will spit out emotion wheel pillows and stickers and mugs and all kinds of stuff. You can print one out, stick it on your bathroom mirror, put it in your cubicle, your office, whatever. And when you get just some downtime, start growing your emotional vocabulary.
P is Permission to Feel. Give yourself permission to feel emotions. A 40-year practicing clinical psychologist shared that it takes the body 60 to 90 seconds to feel the fullness of an emotion; not hours, 60 to 90 seconds.
What I recommend when you’re going through a significant emotional event is acknowledge those emotions and write down a list of all the emotions that you’re feeling. Use that emotion wheel as your cheat sheet to be able to put down as many emotions as you can. Typically, the first 5-10 emotions that you write down are the most intense ones that you’re feeling.
You’re feeling some of the ones you put down at the bottom, but they’re not super intense. They’re not throat punching you, right? So, what I recommend is for those first emotions that you write down on your list, give yourself that permission to feel. How do you do that?
Set your watch alarm or set your phone to 60 seconds. Tell yourself, “I’m going to feel angry for 60 seconds.” And feel nothing but anger for 60 seconds. Scream into a pillow, punch the pillow, punch your punching bag, whatever you got to do. The alarm goes off. You go to the next emotion—sadness, for example. Let yourself feel nothing but sadness for 60 seconds. Feel sad, cry, whatever you have to do, and when the 60-second alarm goes off, move to the next one and so on.
Each one of those is like an emotional muscle cramp. If you don’t massage that emotional cramp or knot and it gets hit again and again and again throughout the day, well, at some point it’s going to turn into an emotional Charlie Horse and get painful. You get emotionally hijacked and emotionally triggered and now everything goes south from there.
By giving yourself permission to feel, you’re allowing your head, heart, and body to massage that emotional knot out.
E is express your emotions in writing. There is a lot of research on this as well—the power of journaling. There’s a few ways to do that. For me, I like writing to God. So, first I start with gratitude and then after my gratitude I express my emotions: “Hey God, here’s some of the emotions I’m feeling. Man, I’m frustrated today. I got upset today. I got rejected or I’m feeling disappointed” or whatever the emotions are.
When you journal, be sure to include not just your thoughts, but also your emotions. There’s also research on the catharsis of doing both thoughts and emotions.
We also have certain scripts and narratives or playlists that are running in our heads that are not based on truth. They’re not accurate. They’re not biblical. They’re unhealthy. Express those in your writing. Pray and ask God to reveal them and let this stuff out. It’s also the opportunity to write down your new thoughts, your new truths that are based on God’s word and not based on emotion so that you don’t have distorted or perverted stories and narratives about that person or situation.
D is discuss with somebody that’s safe and won’t judge you based on the emotions that you’re feeling and expressing. Make sure that whoever you’re talking to is safe and comfortable with their own big and intense emotions because if they’re not comfortable with their own big intense emotions, they’re probably not going to be comfortable with your own big intense emotions.
And it could be professional help, too. If you need professional help with some big stuff, reach out to someone professionally.
This article was adapted from a conversation between OCF Director of Communications Josh Jackson and Noble Gibbens, who was a guest on OCF’s Crosspoint podcast.