I once had a boss that was an emotional mess. I had to read him first thing every morning. If he was happy, I was safe. We’d talk and laugh and work side by side. If he was angry, I hid in my office. I didn’t work for him long.
Peter Scazzero’s book entitled The Emotionally Healthy Leader is genius. He has a series of materials that accentuates the importance of developing a “deep, inner life with Christ, examining its profound implications for surviving stress, planning and decision making, building teams, creating healthy culture, influencing others, and much more.” I’ve read a few of his books and plan to read more as they are published. I highly recommend!
While Scazzero thoroughly covers the topic, I would like to briefly touch on just one aspect: emotional balance for leaders. As one who continues to mature emotionally (you’d think by now I would’ve gotten it), learning this balance is absolutely integral to my success as a leader. Too many times, I’ve victimized myself because my emotions were out of sync. The pressure got to me or a sad event controlled my feelings to the point that it hurt other people. Too many family members and friends could attest that my occasional instability has created more than one mess. I’m doing better.
Rather than focus on the “why” of emotional instability, I want to address the “how.” How does a leader, or anyone else arrive at and maintain emotional balance? Is it possible to walk the high stress tightrope of leadership without wobbling, or, even worse, falling (without a net!)?
Emotional balance for leaders is possible and necessary! Here’s how.
Assess the need.
Recognize when and where you struggle. If you tend to be morose, unhappy, discouraged or depressed, admit it. If you see a pattern of extreme happiness, followed by extreme sadness, there may be an issue. If you frequently have outbursts of uncontrollable anger, there is a problem for sure. Perhaps these are simply personality traits which we’ve learned. At other times, there can be physiological or chemical issues to consider. Never be afraid to seek the advice of a professional. Too many self-sufficient leader types struggle unnecessarily with perpetual doldrums, fear, rage or a combination of all of these. Know yourself, know your emotions, and be honest.
Unless you’re a hermit, someone in your life knows you well enough to be able to help you identify an emotional instabilities. The problem is, if your emotions are out of balance, these people may be afraid to talk to you about it. So, you approach them. Please DO NOT ask them for input, then blow up when they provide it! Be humble, be teachable, be grateful for the love and care they have for you.
If your emotions are out of whack, don’t blame others. Of course, we are all products of our environments. But blaming parents, nationality, painful experiences or stress is a sign of… an emotionally unstable person. “That’s just me, I speak my mind, that’s the way I was raised…” will result in chronic emotional imbalance. Accept the fact that only you can change you; the responsibility is yours and yours alone.
Adjust your approach.
I’ve been on a couple of commercial airliners that were descending for a landing but, at the last moment, pulled back and ascended because they were coming in too fast (hot). Needless to say, this is an exhilarating but terrifying feeling for passengers! Learn to read your emotions before they become an issue. If you’re headed into a conversation or tense meeting, go in prepared, but not too “hot.” High stress brings out the worst in most of us. Being emotionally stoked may result in anxiety or fear based communication, which is seldom healthy. Especially sad environments can throw some of us into an emotional pit. Be aware, be prepared and adjust as needed. Be quick to adapt your emotions as necessary before entering into a potentially troubling situation.
If you have a pattern of really high highs or really low lows, you will need someone to help keep you on track. Don’t isolate yourself. Openly discuss the issue with those you trust. Ask them to point out when you fail. Confess your faults.
Retrain your brain.
Old habits die hard. If your default emotional response to pressure is explosive anger, it won’t go way without a long-term fight. If you’ve been pouting to get your way your entire life, it may take months, if not years to retrain your emotions. But diligence, accountability and a refusal to continue this behavior will allow you to overcome. Here is a simple list of Bible verses that deal with renewing our thinking: Renew Your Mind
God does not want you to suffer under the control of unhealthy emotions. While He certainly can use people who ride the emotional roller coasters, He prefers stability, balance, and appropriate emotional expressions. Ask Him to help you. Confess when you fail. Ask the Holy Spirit to change your heart and mind.
Listen, there is a time to be furious. Sadness is a normal response in many situations. Joy and fear and frustration and grief are part of our God-given DNA. But we are supposed to control these emotions; if we don’t, they most certainly will control us!
For those who’ve learned how to manipulate others through their emotional imbalances, do us all a favor: stop. Power trips, dominant control, passive aggressiveness, and intimidation are horrible traits for a leader, a friend or a human being. Trust me, people are tired of walking on eggshells around you.
Finally, if you are emotionally out of balance and choose to remain that way, don’t be surprised if people learn to read your mood and respond accordingly. They may get out of your way, placate you, or even be sympathetic toward you, but eventually, they will dodge you altogether.
It’s hard to lead people if they are hiding in their offices, avoiding you.