The Leader and Emotion: Jesus

I begin this series with a personal confession. At the age of 55, after many years of leading and teaching on leadership, I am beginning to realize that I have often not been aware of my own emotions. In fact, I’ve tried hard to keep my emotions from impacting my leadership. I allowed myself to believe that some emotions were wrong and therefore denied that I had them. So this series on the leader and emotion will be my own journey of discovery. But I invite you to join with me as I discover how servant leaders live and lead with emotion. First, in this issue, an introduction to emotions from the life of Jesus.

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:33-37).

Jesus was a perfect leader and He was a leader with emotions. This story gives only a glimpse of His emotions but will provide a framework to understand how emotions should correctly shape our leadership.

Emotions should be recognized. Jesus didn’t deny His emotions, He acknowledged them. He was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” Something was happening deeply inside of Him and He recognized it. Jesus knew that to be human was to experience emotion since humans are made in the image of God.

Many leaders, like myself, struggle to recognize what they are feeling. Ask a leader for his/her thoughts and the response will be immediate. But ask about his/her feelings and you might get an awkward silence! Servant leaders learn to recognize their emotions. They are in touch with what is going on inside of their hearts.*

Emotions should be revealed. “Jesus wept.” This shortest verse in the Bible speaks volumes about Jesus as a leader. Jesus revealed his sorrow and pain in the presence of those gathered to mourn the death of Lazarus. In many cultures men are trained not to express emotions. In other cultures the expression of some emotions are acceptable for leaders, but other emotions are not. Family systems can have unspoken rules about how emotions can or cannot be expressed. My own family did not encourage the expression of ‘negative’ emotions so for many years I did not want to acknowledge anger.

But servant leaders learn to reveal their emotions in appropriate ways. Sometimes this will be in public as Jesus demonstrated. But at other times, they may reveal their emotions to a close friend or simply to God. Servant leaders learn to express, not suppress, their emotions.

Emotions should be restrained. Jesus recognized His emotions and He was not afraid to reveal them to everyone. But He was not controlled by His sorrow! He continued to do the work He was called to do, raising Lazarus from the dead.

Servant leaders recognize and appropriately reveal their emotions, but they are not governed by them. They learn to lead with emotions, not by emotions. They recognize the difference between having emotion and being emotional. They ask God for the “self-control” that is a fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) and restrain their emotions as needed.

Jesus led with emotion and we can also learn to lead with emotion. In the following issues we’ll examine different emotions every leader will experience by looking at how David led with emotion. He expressed in the Psalms the range of emotions that we all experience.


Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


*A tool that has helped me to recognize what I am feeling is the “Feeling Wheel” developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox. Click here to download.


For further reflection and discussion:

  • What has been my perspective on emotions as a leader? How is my perspective shaped by my culture? By my personality? By the family systems in which I grew up? How has this perspective impacted my leadership either positively or negatively?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how aware am I of the emotions I experience on a daily basis? How does this impact my leadership? How can I can grow in my awareness of how I am feeling?
  • What does it mean for me to express my emotions appropriately? Are there times I have expressed my emotions inappropriately? What did that do to my relationships with those I lead?
  • To what extent is my leadership controlled by my emotions? Is there a time in the last week that I responded to a leadership issue based on my feelings instead of what was needed by those I serve?


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.