The Emotionally Healthy Leader (Part 1)

As the door closed, I knew it would be a long meeting. New staff hires, new programs, new policies, but same old problems: a lack of emotional awareness and health. As we took our seats around the conference table the air was palpable with tension and frustration. 

How did we get here? What was the root cause of the issues? What were the issues to begin with? 

Our staff team had just made some strategic hires and we were in a season of growth and momentum, yet something didn't seem quite right. I've had to learn the hard way that growth doesn't necessarily equal health. It was at this meeting that Peter Scazzero's book The Emotionally Healthy Leader was recommended to me. 

These next few blog posts are reflections I gleaned from this insightful leadership book. If you're like me, executing programs and hiring the right people just won't cut it any more. We need to grow deeper; to find Christ at the epicenter of our leadership, not on the peripheries. 

Part 1: The Inner Life

Growing up, performance was the barometer for health in my family and ministry. If I was successful on the outside, God was "blessing me" on the inside. But Peter Scazzero says, "If we fail to recognize that who we are on the inside informs every aspect of our leadership, we will do damage to ourselves and those we lead." And this paradigm shift has been fundamental to my growth as a leader. 

But how do we measure inner growth? What does that look like? 

Peter Scazzero gives us four helpful measurements of inner growth. He says that if we want to have a deep and transformed inner life we must: 

  1. Face our shadows
  2. Lead out of our marriage/singleness 
  3. Slow down for loving union 
  4. Practice Sabbath delight 

Face Our Shadows - Our shadow is "the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape our behaviors. It is the damaged but mostly hidden version of who we are." Although we are new creations in Christ, the old self still hinders the best version of ourselves from being who God has created us to be. When we ignore our shadow, we are limited in knowing ourselves, serving others and blind us to the shadow of others.

Lead Out of Our Marriage/Singleness - This chapter was significant for me because it reminded me of the importance of my partnership with my wife in ministry. Being a leader is a demanding role and is full of responsibilities. And when we aren't connected emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically to our spouse, there will be significant disconnects in our leadership abilities. Scazzero says, "Understanding singleness and marriage as callings or vocations must inform our self-understanding and the outworking of our leadership. Our whole life as a leader is to bear witness to God's love for the world." 

Slow Down for Loving Union - In our world of busyness and instant communication through the inter-webs, it's no wonder that we have lost our ability to slow down. Loving union isn't about creating a checklist of spiritual disciplines or having emotionally intense experiences with God. Loving union is about creating space in your calendar to simply listen to the voice of Jesus. It's about NOT BEING BUSY. If we want to lead for the long haul, we must create space in our day-to-day lives to experience the freedom Jesus brings in the silent moments of the day. 

Practice Sabbath Delight - A Sabbath is a 24-hour block of time in which we stop work, slow down, enjoy rest, spend time with family and friends and think on God. In college, I remember I would make excuses why I didn't have time for a Sabbath. Too much homework, ministry responsibilities, plans and expectations. After college when I started working at the church and going to seminary, I faced the same issues. But in the last three years, I have created space in my weekly rhythm to carve out intentional space to do what brings most rest to my body, mind and soul. Am I less busy now then I was before? No! But these Sabbath rhythms have enabled me to do more work during the days I've created for work and my connection with Jesus has been enriched for me to lead out of an overflow, not scarcity. 

These four principles are the starting points to becoming an emotionally healthy leader. Our inner status has a direct impact on our outer performance and this is what I've been intentionally working on these past few months. 

If you're interested in learning how to go deeper, purchase the book here

Next blog includes reflections on the Outer Life of Leadership.