Book review: The Emotionally Healthy Leader

By Sam Doerksen

Peter Scazzero is best known for his work in regards to being a spiritually and emotionally healthy person, beginning with his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. As a young pastor, Scazzero was working from a place of giftedness and put in a lot of hard work, but soon found it was not all it was meant to be. At a certain point, he started to realize he was emotionally unhealthy.

In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, he writes about his journey and the process that helped him come to a healthy place as a person, husband, father and pastor.

You may wonder, then, what The Emotionally Healthy Leader is about. It could be quickly discarded, as it seems to just be yet another book about emotional health. You may even have the same question that I did: “Is this going to be the same book as his earlier one? Has Scazzero written about the same principle and then simply broadened the text?”

In true Scazzero style, The Emotionally Healthy Leader shows us that he has even more to learn on this topic, and he has not arrived yet. By taking the principles of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and applying them to personal and leadership potential, Scazzero opens our eyes to a deeper understanding of the impact of emotional health.

What I appreciate most about The Emotionally Healthy Leader is how Scazzero explains that the place to start dealing with being unhealthy is not by pointing a finger at everyone else – it’s by looking at himself.

Ladder of integrity

One of the processes that stood out for me in terms of self-awareness is what Scazzero calls “the ladder of integrity.”

This ladder of integrity helps us look at ourselves and challenges others to see themselves – creating ample opportunity for us to grow and mature. But it needs to be an intentional choice.

There are 10 rungs on a ladder, he explains. The first four rungs speak into what is going on inside of me. The next four are what I value. And the last two are what I hope for:

  1. Right now the issue on my mind is . . .
  2. My part in this is . . .
  3. My need in this issue is . . .
  4. My feelings about this are . . . (What my reaction tells me about me is . . .)
  5. This issue is important to me because I value . . . and I violate that value when . . .
  6. I am willing/not willing to . . .
  7. One thing I could do to improve this situation is . . .
  8. The most important think I want you to know is . . .
  9. I think my honest sharing will benefit our relationship by . . . and the last is . . .
  10. I hope and look forward to . . .

Understanding these steps of integrity can help us in our culture and team building. The first question Scazzero keeps asking is, “What is happening with me?” But he doesn’t end there. He also invites others to help him understand the place he’s in – there’s a spirit of humility in his approach. At the same time, though, he doesn’t shy away from helping others in their journey as well.

“As Christian leaders,” he writes, “we must be intentional about taking chaos of what people bring to the organization (from their very different backgrounds and families of origin) and shaping it into a new culture that seeks to operate as the family of Jesus.”

Understanding ourselves

Scazzero also touches on the genogram and searching out our family history. When we do, we are able to see what it is that we might be fighting against in our character. And as we understand the impact of our family and the work we do, we can be challenged to grow in our faith – and this is a necessary component of our lives.

When we deepen our understanding of being faithful and being sure to treat others as being created in the image of God, not as people to be manipulated, we need to be humble. Humility comes with understanding who we are – but that ability needs practice.

Who likes change? Not many people. But taking the time to read this book may be the impetus you need to change for the better. There is always something to learn. Scripture is an important tool in this journey of self-understanding. When we use it not as a means of scolding, but as a guide, we can better navigate the difficult journey of change – for ourselves and for others.

Married or single

Sadly, not many books address the issues of ministering as a married person or a single person. Scazzero, though, explains that if we’re married, then we serve out of our “marriedness.” We must love our spouse and treat them well, loving them in life. It is not about us showing others what we can do and how much we can do – especially when we neglect our spouse in the process of showing others the great impact of our ministry or proving how many hours we can work. Ministry stems out of who we are, and people will notice if we’re disconnected from our spouse.

For those who are single, Scazzero address the question many people have: Can single people serve out of their singleness or do they need to be married in order to minister? Of course everyone can minister, regardless of their relationship status, but Scazzero does draw attention to a common trend that single people in ministry have often been guilted into working longer hours, just because they are single. But single people have personal lives, too. They have friends and family. And they should be able to rest and rejuvenate with others so they can serve as healthy individuals.

There is a lot of work involved in changing the way we operate as leaders. It may be new territory for us. At the same time it brings us to the place where we minister out of who we are, not just what we do. Who we are is very important in what we do.

I would encourage those who have not read The Emotionally Healthy Leader to set some time aside to do so. After all, we minister out of who we are.


Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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