Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Charles Kiser —  August 30, 2011 — 4 Comments

I lead from the ‘gut’. I lead from the heart. I lead from my passions.

Call it what you will – I’m an emotional leader, I suppose.

Here’s what I mean: if I’m passionate and excited about something, I lead well. That is, I find it easy to collaborate with others, to equip others for a task, to cast vision for the future, to model and live out the mission myself, etc.

If I’m discouraged and frustrated, I don’t lead well.

This realization has confronted me as I’ve paid closer attention to my heart, or gut, or emotions – whatever you call it.

I first began to tune in to the “state of my heart” through the Church of Two movement, with its focus on identifying and sharing with others feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, happiness or excitement. In fact, it had such an impact on me that I now begin my daily prayer by checking in with God and talking to him about how I’m feeling.

I gained another tool this summer on my Quest retreat with Fellowship of the Sword called “The Emotional Cup,” developed in the book Emotional Fitness by David Ferguson and Don McMinn.

I haven’t read the book, but have found the overview of the concept quite helpful for my own emotional attentiveness.

The main idea is that hurts, sadness and disappointments drop to the bottom of the cup and serve as the source for all other negative emotions and behaviors.

Hurts are bad things that happen to us, not bad things we do to ourselves; they are wounds others inflict and are not our own sin or brokenness.

When we’re hurt, we often react to the pain in anger and resentment, then fear and anxiety, then guilt, then shame, then stress. All of these negative emotions bubble up out of the cup to produce destructive behaviors, whether it’s addiction or depression or irritability or fatigue.

I think most people – myself included – tend to try to deal with the surface level of negative behaviors rather than address the deeper emotional issues that fuel such behaviors.

Then they’re left confused and frustrated – as I have been – when they are not able to stop their behaviors simply with willpower.

What the Emotional Cup proposes is that we address those deeper hurts and disappointments, which causes the negative behaviors to vanish because they no longer have anything off which to feed. To do so is to cut the problem off at the root rather than to lop off a branch that can just grow back.

Incidentally, a major component of the 12 Steps program in Alcoholics Anonymous is taking a “moral inventory” which requires one to catalog major fears and resentments. The overt focus is on what the addict has done wrong. Yet it stops short of the deeper hurts and disappointments that are not the addict’s fault. In my opinion, the Emotional Cup, by starting with hurts and disappointments – things that are not sin or brokenness – takes healing to a deeper level.

In John Eldredge’s words, the real problem is: “Many people have a deep wound in their soul and don’t even known it, much less how to heal it.”

Most of us are not aware of the wounds in our hearts that remain open and infected. Some of us have deeply repressed them. Others of us are very much aware and the last thing we want is to venture anywhere close to them because of the pain they would cause.

We need, as Eldredge says, to let Jesus walk with us into our wounds. He can heal us. He can offer release from our wounds which we so desperately need.

I experienced the truth of this concept this summer as I dealt with some deep hurts in my own life – some as far back as 15 years – and poof! The negative behaviors I was so frustrated with are no longer hanging around like they used to.

God took me into those wounds in my heart and healed me up!

To be sure, I’ve got a long way to go. More healing remains. But I haven’t felt life change quite so tangibly as after processing through the truth of the Emotional Cup.

The challenge for me now is to address the hurts and disappointments with God as they crop up, rather than allowing them to fester and sit at the bottom of the cup.

This is, in my view, at least part of what it means to become an emotionally intelligent leader.

Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

4 responses to Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader


    Some very sound ideas in what you’re saying here. I really appreciate that you’re paying attention to what’s going on in your heart.

    I think our deep emotional stuff moves us a whole lot more than most like to admit. Connecting with it with God and in community is a part of where healing and growth happen.

    Blessings as you continue to journey!


    Thank you for expressing your heart! I relate so well these sentiments. The 12 Steps bring great relief to my emotions when i know i need to make “amends” to someone I’ve hurt in the past. The pain, of approaching amends hurts, but the relief of turning that negative experience into a forgiven experience is worth the joy twice over! However, I’m not able to make such amends if i cannot recognize my root issue, the core pain. Core pain is the nervous system to how my body regulates physical and emotional (lumbar pain to pits of depression). When I am “out of balance”, I go back to my roots. So why do Christians find it so terrifying to look in the mirror at core pain?


      I fear that few Christians have had an experience of love and the twice-over-joy you talk about when dealing with deep wounds. We tend to be afraid to look at such core pain out of the fear that it will only get worse because that’s what we’ve experienced in the past. We must experience love or at least acceptance in that core pain, but we didn’t feel love in the past, and we fear, deep down, that it won’t ever be there. May God shape the church to provide love to those who are wounded. And we’re all wounded. Maybe God has or is working to empower you to provide that kind of experience for others in the church.

    gailynvanrheenen August 31, 2011 at 7:04 am

    Charles, thank you for your self-disclosure. I am with you! Deep hurt can create barriers affecting motivation and stamina. One key item in your blog is “We need, as Eldredge says, to let Jesus walk with us into our wounds. He can heal us. He can offer release from our wounds which we so desperately need.” Thanks for helping us along our journey as you reflect on yours.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s