The concepts presented in this article are not my own. I’ve adapted and applied the themes presented by author and pastor Peter Scazzero in his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader to a coaching context. This article is part two of a two-part series. You can view the first article in this series here.
Are the leaders you coach emotionally healthy or unhealthy? What distinguishes a healthy leader from one that is unhealthy?
According to author and pastor Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader:
The emotionally unhealthy leader is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity, and a ‘being with God’ sufficient to sustain their ‘doing’ for God.
“Unhealthy leaders lack . . . awareness of their feelings, their weaknesses and limits, how their past impacts their present, and how others experience them,” he writes. “They also lack the capacity and skill to enter deeply into the feelings and perspectives of others. They carry these immaturities with them into their teams and everything they do.”
Four Characteristics of the Emotionally Unhealthy Leader
In part one of this series, we identified the two of four characteristics common in emotionally unhealthy leaders—low self-awareness and prioritizing ministry over marriage. Today, we will take a closer look at the remaining two characteristics — doing too much for God and failing to practice a Sabbath rhythm.
Emotionally Unhealthy Leaders Do Too Much for God
Scazerro states that emotionally unhealthy leaders consistently overextend themselves, saying yes to almost every opportunity that comes along rather than taking the time to pray and discern God’s will in each situation.
The concept of doing for Jesus as the natural overflow of being with Jesus is foreign to emotionally unhealthy leaders. Their mantra is more and bigger is better. Their priority is leading their church, ministry, or team as a means of reaching the world for Christ, rather than deepening intimacy with Jesus.
These leaders may be deeply passionate about serving God but place less focus on knowing God. While it is dangerous to generalize, I am making an observation based on what I’ve experienced in my life over the years, as well as conversations I’ve had with church and marketplace leaders.
My observation is simply this: It is possible for our times with God to become routine—a box we check off at the end of a busy day. We perfunctorily read the Word of God while our mind wanders to a meeting we have at 10 a.m., the car that needs new tires, and the bills that need to be paid. We are physically present but emotionally and spiritually absent. It is never our heart’s desire. It simply happens over time as the culture around us squeezes us into its mold.
Consider Steven, a worship leader at a large, multi-site church. In addition to his part-time position as the worship pastor, he works a demanding full-time job, is married, and has three children. As if that weren’t enough to keep anyone busy, he leads worship three times a week and oversees more than 75 volunteers.
Feeling overwhelmed, he hires you as his coach in the hopes that you’ll be able to help him get more done.
During one of your sessions together, Steven describes a sense of dread every time he even thinks about leading worship on the weekend. He feels numb—even empty—inside, but he doesn’t understand why. The church is thriving, and the worship ministry is getting ready to cut their first album.
If everything is going so well, why does Steven feel like a shell of his former self?
With you as his coach, Steven has become more self-aware and begins to realize the pace of life at which he is running is not sustainable—at least not without damaging his health and his marriage.
You used direct communication and powerful questions to raise Steven’s awareness. For example:
- How does your ministry align with the example set by Jesus in the Scriptures?
- You’ve mentioned you’ve gained 20 pounds in three months, and you’ve begun seeing a Christian counselor to address the depression and anxiety you’re struggling with. What does your recent decline in physical and emotional health tell you?
- Imagine Jesus being here in our midst and telling him how exhausted and empty you feel. What do you imagine he might say to you?
- You said you are feeling distant from your spouse, and she shuts down when you’re home. What’s that about?
Steven’s conversations with you helped him realize he needs to make some changes.
Emotionally Unhealthy Leaders Lack a Healthy Work/Sabbath Rhythm
The first change Steven makes is to practice the Sabbath, a weekly 24-hour period in which he refrains from work and instead chooses to spend time with his family, doing things they all enjoy. But it just didn’t fall neatly into place. It took him a while to get there. When he began practicing a Sabbath, he used his day off to pay bills, cut the grass, clean out the basement, and other chores around the house.
His wife gently pointed out to him that he was still “working,” albeit at home. He and his wife rebalanced household responsibilities, so he could take off a full 24 hours.
The bigger challenge was taking a Sabbath from church and ministry responsibilities. Church staff did not take the news well that Steven planned to be “unavailable” for a 24-hour period. After several weeks gave Steven an ultimatum—either make yourself available when we need you, or we will have to find someone else to lead worship.
Steven prayed about it and, firm in his convictions, respectfully stepped down from his job.
But not everyone would make the same decision. Scazzero believes we persist in an unhealthy rhythm of life because of what he calls the “four unhealthy commandments of church leadership.”
- It’s not a success unless it’s bigger and better.
- What you do is more important than who you are.
- Superficial spirituality is okay.
- Don’t rock the boat as long as the work gets done.
“If we allow ourselves and our leadership to be formed by these faulty, unspoken commandments—even in small ways—we increase the likelihood of devastating, long-term consequences,” Scazerro says. “Odds are good we will damage ourselves—physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally . . . “And we will damage the people we serve by failing to bring them into spiritual/emotional maturity so they can offer their lives to the world.”
Creating awareness is key when working with emotionally unhealthy leaders. However, with that awareness comes greater responsibility. Once your clients recognize their leadership is unhealthy, they will be faced with difficult decisions that could have far-reaching effects.
As a coach, you must be prepared to accept your clients’ decisions, whether you deem them good or bad. But, as the professional you are, you are also called to speak directly.
Coaching unhealthy leaders is challenging, and a fine line exists between honoring the client’s agenda while also honoring professional coaching competencies and guidelines.
How would you have coached Steven? Do you see yourself in this article? If so, what needs to change?
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