Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Be Anxious for Nothing

Written by: on February 23, 2024

In this week’s writing, Edwin Friedman speaks to the anxiety of America and the emotional regression that ensues from a failure of leadership. Fast forward to 2024. It is hard to move the needle on the climate of America as there is still plenty of room for anxiety. A quick glance at today’s headlines and some of the things dominating our attention:

• a sensitive and heightened political climate.
• the pervasiveness of crime.
• wars and rumors of war.
• an ever-turbulent volatile economy.
• the aftereffects of COVID-19.
• racism, sexism, and bigotry.
• violence and gun violence.

Did I forget anything? If there is ever a time for stable, healthy, and transformative leaders, the time is now. Friedman’s systems perspective and biological illustrations were anecdotal analogies that could reach people at every level. The assertion is that we should be emotionally intelligent leaders, which should not be taken lightly.

One section that resonated with me was imaginative gridlock and how we think using a black-or-white or all-or-nothing philosophy. “Paradigms that might begin simply as theoretical differences become hardened into intense, oppositional emotional commitments.”[1] There are certain instances I can readily relate to on this where the emphasis was on the emotional rather than the subject matter. How many meetings have I/we attended only to be hijacked by going down rabbit holes we never came up out of? How many subsequent meetings have you and I attended we never got down to the issue at hand in the first meeting because people were too emotionally vested? Evaluating these scenarios in hindsight, there was an ignorance on the part of leadership that kept the main thing from being the main thing with a refusal to break emotional barriers.

A second place of reading that took me to a full stop was reading about emotional triangles. This was somewhat triggering as Friedman paints a vivid picture of its ramifications. “…they perpetuate treadmills, reduce clarity distort perceptions, inhibit decisiveness and transmit stress.”[2] My immediate reaction was anger and the feeling of stupidity because I recognized how much time was wasted being duped by stuck people. As a Christian, I know we can become wedged within the crucible of sympathy and empathy, but as I look back at some of my treadmill tussles, my thoughts are, Oh, what a tangled web we weaved. Even worse, how could these web traps have been avoided? After uncovering this common thread within my leadership lapses, I would later learn and recover from the lesson of my leadership lapses -most people wanted me to affirm their position rather than make the right decision and exit the triangulation.

Counterproductivity is the culprit of a failure of the nerve in this triangulation. In pastoral ministry, we often come across people who seek counsel. This is expected as my duties include being available for my congregants in this fashion. I have also implemented a rule that if I meet with an individual or family for the third time on the same matter, they will be referred out for professional counseling in most circumstances. I remember how long it took me to arrive at and adopt this practice, more specifically, anxiety, which led me to make this decision. As a naïve leader, my original thoughts centered on am I abandoning people in the middle of their struggle? Am I not being a good leader? It was eye-opening when I comprehended the amount of time spent dealing with these matters, and making the adjustment freed me to do other leadership assignments of equal or more significant proportion.

There is a pathway for leadership success found in Friedman that causes us not to focus on the practical, a predominant train of thought, but the emotional. He debunks a huge myth that has led to the demise of many leaders and organizations, “conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder.”[3]  I find myself harnessed to this quote because my introspection now causes me to investigate the areas of my leadership and the organizations I am attached to and evaluate their fruitfulness and what I can do to improve things.

Last week, my key takeaway was asking the right questions. This week, Friedman sort of unhinges that, suggesting one of the characteristics of gridlocked systems is looking for answers rather than reframing questions. As I incorporate these readings into my leadership lifestyle to walk it out better and wiser, I am reminded of my football analogy in a previous post. There are many ways to reach the end zone, including passing, throwing, kicking, and intercepting, and all can be utilized at various points throughout the game. The same applies to leadership- using practical, theological, and now emotional sheds light on a relevant truth. Different situations may require different leadership traits, but influential leaders should develop a variety of these in their toolbox as they aim to be successful.

[1] Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), 43

[2] Ibid., 219.

[3] Ibid., 37.

About the Author

Daren Jaime

14 responses to “Be Anxious for Nothing”

  1. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Daren,

    I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m abandoning people in their struggle, but sometimes the ‘tough love’ can be better for everyone in the long run. Have you found ways to communicate to people that you are not abandoning them, but actually helping, by referring them out, or even in other situations?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hi Christy. To answer your question bluntly, it was pretty overwhelming at first. The turnaround occurred after I shed the guilt, but my mentor shared the difference between a doctor and a specialist, which also helped me tremendously. When a primary care doctor makes a referral to a specialist, he still cares, but the specialist is better suited for the client. So I now don’t view it as abandoning but better assisting.

  2. Debbie Owen says:

    Daren, thank you. I had a situation the other day where I felt like I was suddenly in a triangle not of my own making! How do you handle such situations? Or how do you plan to handle them in the future?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hi Debbie! Not taking things personally can be a huge help; making the hard decisions and sticking to them can also be a difference maker. In my opinion, some triangles are rooted in our own savior complex where we want to be the one who saves the day or our need for validation. Avoiding these will also keep us out of these places that do not do well for us.

  3. mm Glyn Barrett says:

    Thanks for your blog Daren. Here in the UK we also have similar headlines. How do you think we can navigate the complexities of leadership in today’s tumultuous climate, where emotional regression and gridlock often impede progress?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hey Glyn, thanks for asking. We are often guilty of that emotional regression and gridlock, but Jesus gives excellent insight.

      In Matthew 16:23, Jesus rebukes Peter, calling him Satan and telling him he is a stumbling block to him. Peter was not setting his mind on God’s interests but on man’s. Peter forsook God’s perspective and evaluated it from a human one. Satan desires for us to be caught up, getting us to leave God out of the equation .

      Maintaining God’s perspective amidst this tumultuous and turbulent environment is paramount. We in ministry can, like Peter, get caught leading from our emotions and become a stumbling block. We must constantly and aggressively pursue and evaluate from God’s perspective. This could potentially be a great start.

  4. Julie O'Hara says:

    Hi Daren, There are so many expectations put on pastors and I suspect that most have had very little exposure to both the need to be less-anxious and and any idea how to develop that characteristic of leadership prior to entering their roles as Senior/Lead Pastor or various associate roles. What kind of training or exposure did you have to developing as a less-anxious leader prior to your own start in ministry?

    • Daren Jaime says:

      Hey Julie! I don’t think I was adequately prepared. My training did not include being aware of emotional triangles and making hard decisions. Last week, Poole talked about critical incidents, and if I had all of this in my toolbox, things would have been easier. I have a new appreciation for proactive leadership training. Some of the lessons learned are from a reactive place, after an occurrence, mistake, or failure. Having these last two books to look at 15 years ago would have changed my vision.

  5. Graham English says:

    Daren, thanks for your blog. I’m sure every pastor can relate to wasting time being duped by stuck people. I have also worked with stuck pastors.
    How do you get unstuck once you find yourself caught in a toxic cycle?

  6. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    Thank you, Daren, for your post. I enjoy your writing style. My question is somewhat like Glyn’s. As a pastoral leader, how do you lead/love people you may not even like?

    I am thinking about people who perpetuate the very behaviors named above.

  7. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Daren, Thank you for your insightful post. You wrote that you felt like you might be abandoning someone when you refer them to a counselor. I wonder, if you can see how the decision(s) you made actually was the best form of help that the person(s) could have gotten from you.

  8. mm Kari says:

    HI Daren, thank you for your post. Although not a pastor, I could resonate with your struggles, especially with people continuing to come back for counsel with the same problem. This boundary (or diagnostic tool) of three times for the same problem then a referral to a counselor is an excellent practice. Is there anything specific that you have been able to flourish in or focus on because of the time and effort saved in referring to a “specialist”?

  9. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Daren, good on you for setting that three-session boundary. I immediately thought, “How brilliant!” because I saw this as a sign of role clarity.

    As a pastor, Im sure you learn to coach and counsel, but it’s not your primary role so it makes sense why you’d need to be clear in that. At the same time, I can relate to the internal challenge doing so can stir, and also, I can imagine the extra weight as a pastor since everyone likely has their own understanding of what your role should be lol.

    That said, it sounds like this was a powerful breakthrough but Im curious how you apply this same type of adaptation when in gridlocked situations where you might not have the power/agency to switch how things are done. Thoughts, tips, tricks?

  10. Chad Warren says:

    Daren, your post brings a helpful perspective. I appreciate you touching on imaginative gridlock from Friedman. This was not something that resonated when I first read it but your post brought my attention back to it in a helpful way. Given your additional thoughts on this what do you think helps a leader move past imaginative gridlock in addition to refusing to break emotional barriers?

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