Sunday, July 19, 2009


Edwin H. Friedman’s book “A Failure of Nerve” is challenging me

BEYOND QUICK-FIX LEADING. Rod Smith put me onto A Failure of Nerve, subtitled “Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.” I’ve read, enjoyed, been challenged by, and bought into Friedman’s book Generation to Generation. It's a family systems approach to understanding and working healingly with congregations, families, and individuals...even oneself. Friedman’s Fables is also a gem. A Failure of Nerve is published post-humously; Friedman died of a heart attach several years ago.

UNFINISHED OPUS. Though abbreviated because unfinished (his family and organization worked to make it publishable), the book builds on Friedman’s systems view, applying it to his observation of leadership pathologies. I find some similarities between this and the ideas in Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Here are a few things I’ve underlined in A Failure of Nerve as I make my way through it:

DEFINING FACTOR. “The single variable that most distinguished the families that survived and flourished from those that disintegrated was the presence of what I shall refer to as a well-differentiated leader.”

SEPARATE BUT CONNECTED. “By well-differentiated leader…I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”

PRESENCE AND BEING. “What counts is a leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.”

IMPACTING SYSTEM INDIRECTLY. “If a leader did not have to be in direct contact with every member [of the institution] in order to influence them, then it should follow that if a leader could learn to be a well-differentiated presence, by the very nature of his or her being he or she could promote differentiation and support creative imagination throughout the system. This would be the case not by focusing on techniques for moving others, but by focusing on the nature of his or her own being and presence.”

VISION IS NOT ENOUGH. “A leader must separate his or her own emotional being from that of his or her followers while still remaining connected. Vision is basically an emotional rather than a cerebral phenomenon, depending more on a leader’s capacity to deal with anxiety than his or her professional training or degree. A leader needs the capacity to not only to accept the solitariness that comes with the territory, but also come to love it.”

WORK ON YOURSELF. “It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the ‘dis-integr-ation’ of the system he or she is leading.”

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

1 comment:

  1. sounds so much more interesting/complex/real than what I usually have given me on the subject. It seems like you like it, is it worth getting? Is it the type of book you would read as a church staff? Maybe just the pastors?

    Thank you and love your posts. Congratulations on the new part of your calling. May you be a blessing to all, mostly Him, through it.


Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.