The ideas presented in this article are not my own. I’ve adapted the concepts presented in author and pastor Peter Scazzero’s excellent book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and applied it to a coaching context.

In working with leaders in varying capacities for more than 20 years, I’ve learned there are two kinds of leaders–emotionally healthy and emotionally unhealthy leaders. Both sets of leaders can be anointed, gifted, and used by God. However, far too often, I’ve seen emotionally unhealthy leaders derail their lives and ministries because they were unaware of and failed to address significant, below-the-surface issues.

As professional Christian coaches, we are uniquely positioned to serve these leaders and accelerate their growth and effectiveness by creating awareness.

In this two-article series, I’m going to show you how.

Let’s start by identifying what constitutes an emotionally unhealthy leader, as defined by author and pastor Peter Scazzero, in his 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.”

Scazzero goes on to say, “Unhealthy leaders lack, for example, awareness of their feelings, their weaknesses and limits, how their past impacts their present, and how others experience them. 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

According to the author, the damage is evident primarily in four areas: low self-awareness, prioritizing ministry over marriage/singleness, doing too much for God, and failing to practice a Sabbath rhythm.

Low Self-Awareness

Emotionally unhealthy leaders fail to recognize what is going on inside of them. They struggle to identify, process, and express strong emotions, such as anger, in healthy ways. Further, leaders like these often ignore the signals their bodies are sending them—stress-induced illnesses, headaches, depression, anxiety, and more. They also tend to overreact to present situations because they are rooted in unresolved areas from their past.

While unresolved areas from the past are the domain of counselors and therapists, coaches are well equipped to ask powerful questions and communicate directly to raise client awareness. For example:

  • That’s a strong reaction to what some might perceive as a minor incident. What’s really going on here?
  • When was the first time you remember feeling that way?
  • It sounds like you’ve dealt with anger for most of your life. What next steps do you want to take to address this issue once and for all?

They Prioritize Ministry over Marriage or Singleness

Whether married or single, unhealthy leaders often lack emotional intimacy with others and healthy relationships, instead pouring their best energy, thought, and creative efforts into ministry. For example, consider the leader who works full time, heads the missions committee at church, and teaches Sunday school every week, totaling more than 60 hours a week. At home waits his pregnant wife and toddler.

In addition to using powerful questions and direct communication to increase a client’s self- awareness, you might also consider using such coaching tools as the wheel of life and other assessments. Assessments will broaden the client’s understanding of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and how they play into the mix.

Consider this scenario:

Rob, a thirty-something church leader, wants to spend today’s session coaching around some issues in his marriage. He tells you his wife has seemed frustrated and angry lately when he gets home each evening. She is eight months pregnant and raising an active toddler. She has asked Rob for more support at home. Rob feels frustrated that his wife doesn’t understand the importance of his work at the church. He is praying and asking God to change her heart.

Creating Awareness

As a coach, how would you handle this situation? What questions might you ask Rob?

To create awareness, consider these powerful questions:

  • As you have sought the Lord about this, Rob, what has He shown you? (In my experience, people who regularly work a 60-hour week generally lack the time they need to “linger” in God’s presence. This question can be very revealing and quickly create greater self-awareness.)
  • Imagine you are counseling a couple at church with the same issues. Try to step back from the emotions and objectively look at the situation. What questions would you ask this couple? How would you counsel them?
  • Now, try to put yourself in your wife’s shoes for just a moment. She is eight months pregnant, has been sick throughout her entire pregnancy, and she is dealing with a two-year old all day. How do you imagine she feels? What would you want your wife to do for you if you felt that way?
  • Where could you go to gain a more objective perspective on this situation?

Check back next week for part two of this series, Coaching the Emotionally Unhealthy Leader.

In the meantime, I encourage you to pick up The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero. It includes several great assessments you could use with your clients.