Some days you orobably think it would be better if you could lead without them.

You get excited about a new idea only to become discouraged when no one else thinks it’s a great idea…or it doesn’t work.

As a church leader, you spend most of Monday wishing Sunday had been different, and it’s rarely healthy.

You get one nasty email and it ruins your day week.

Your bad day at work becomes a bad night at home.

Your mood dictates too much of the tone at the office.

Misunderstood and unaddressed emotions sink more leadership potential than most of us realize.

If you don’t understand your emotions or know how to manage them, you will never reach your leadership potential.

And yet emotions are absolutely necessary for great leaders.

So how do you manage your emotions?

There are 5 practices effective leaders adopt when it comes to their emotions. Knowing them can make a huge difference in your leadership.


So what do effective leaders do with their emotions?

Well, great leaders:

1. Never let today’s emotions drive tomorrow’s decisions

When emotions drive decisions, you almost never make great decisions.

For sure, great decision making is a combination of the head and the heart.

But think about all the terrible decisions you’ve made when you were emotional:

You said terrible things.

You fired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You hired someone you wish you hadn’t.

You lost your temper in a meeting.

You broke up.

You ate too much.

You drove so fast you got a killer ticket.

You almost quit.

You did quit.

Wise leaders know that. They realize that rash things they do today impact tomorrow.

They have come to realize that no matter how they feel in the moment, a good night’s sleep, some prayer, discussing the matter with wise friends and even some distance will make for a better decision down the road.

I had to learn this the hard way, but it’s such a good principle: Don’t make tomorrow’s decision on today’s emotions.

2. Refuse to let emotions distort reality

Emotions distort reality.

It’s never as bad as you think when you’re emotional. And it’s likely not as great as you think either.

Emotions make you see negative things more negatively than you should, and positive things even more positively than you should.

Even positive emotions can hurt you when they are detached from reality. If you’re overly positive, you can ignore reality, miss impending dangers and gloss over problems that actually require your attention.

Time is your friend when it comes to making wise decisions. Putting a little distance between your emotions and your decisions is a great strategy.

So is wise counsel. Great leaders trust the judgment of other people as much as they trust their own.

And when they’re emotional, they trust the judgment of others more than they trust their own.

3. Won’t let emotions spawn selfish behaviour

Bad days or bad emotions are most often fueled by pain.

A stinging email triggers a deep hurt. A bad staff situation eats away at your joy. A season without momentum erodes your self-confidence.

You end as a leader in pain. And pain is selfish.

In the same way that stubbing your toe makes you forget about whatever else you were doing until the pain is resolved, your emotional pain (no matter its source) makes you more selfish as a leader.

People in pain:

Don’t listen well to others.

Withdraw and sulk.

Blame others.

Eventually turn every conversation to a conversation about themselves and their needs.

Want others to share their misery or sadness.

Seek attention.

And selfish leaders are never effective leaders.

Effective leaders know that.

The best way to get rid of your selfishness is to get rid of your pain.

Pray about it. See a counsellor. Drill down on your issues.

4. Let emotions fuel passion

Emotion isn’t all bad.

After all, who wants to follow an emotionless leader?

In fact, when you look at churches that are doing a great job of reaching adults under 35, passion is an indisputable characteristic (here are the other 4). Passion is directly fueled by emotion and is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to fake.

Consequently, great leaders realize there is no sustained or contagious passion without emotion.

You are attracted to people who are passionate, or at least you can’t easily dismiss them.

When you lead with passion, teach with passion and preach with passion, your leadership becomes far more magnetic.

Plus, passion ends up fueling you. It’s what makes you get out of bed in the morning and drives you on.

Effective leaders are emotional, but they ensure that the emotions that drive them in leadership are the emotions that positively impact others.

5. Keep their hearts fully engaged

Your heart gets beat up in leadership, and as a result it’s easy to pull your heart back. To never engage. To stop trusting. To withdraw.

Effective leaders simply don’t do that.

They realized that the great leaders push past the hurt, the cynicism and the pain and keep their hearts fully engaged.

They decide to hope again, to trust again and to believe again.

Why? Because when your heart is engaged and alive, you become a better leader.

When you feel a full range of emotions (both positive and negative) you can empathize with people who are hurting and celebrate with people who are celebrating.

You can walk with a group or congregation through a hard time and celebrate joyfully in the great moments.

To do that, you need to keep your heart healthy and in tune.

I wrote about the top 10 habits of leaders who effectively guard their hearts here.

And if you think your heart isn’t, here are some signs it might be burn out and some resources to help you get your heart back.

What Are You Learning?

If you want to drill deeper, I wrote more about the impact of emotions on leadership in my best-selling book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

Managing your emotions in leadership is one of the things that distinguishes great leaders from the rest.

What are you learning about managing your emotions as a leader?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Things Great Leaders Know About Their Emotions That Others Don’t


  1. emotion on January 20, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    I have to say this is a great article… It’s tough to understand a leaders heart, cause they are some sort of politician too. so, they hide their emotions lots of time and show what is needed.

  2. Larissa on April 16, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    This is great. I’ve been in ministry and leadership for over a decade, and seen the ups and downs of emotions (in myself and those I lead). Emotional maturity is SO important for leaders.

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