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


Written by: on February 22, 2024

She was 16 and caught on camera in an act of vandalism. Details will not be shared to protect the guilty. My daughter admitted to some other behaviors she had been up to in the weeks leading up to that incident. She was devastated about all of it. Looking back, there was not one thing she told us that my husband and I had not participated in ourselves at her age, but I don’t remember sharing that with her. What I do remember was taking her phone, the worst punishment I could imagine. I also took her to a counselor. At the end of the first meeting, the counselor called me in to join them.  I expected some sort of plan to fix my daughter. Instead, the counselor said, “Mom, your daughter is a normal teenager and you need to back off.”   This episode took place about a year before I was introduced to Systems Theory.

Back then I was a herding, blaming, reactive mom looking for a quick-fix for my daughter who apparently did not need fixing at all. It was I, her parent, in the role of leader who had no idea what it meant to be well-differentiated and non-anxious. It was I who needed to become unstuck by reframing the problem and asking better questions. The shock of being told to “back off” was the serendipitous paradigm shift I needed to begin to grow out of old unhealthy patterns.[1] While reading this week I spent a great deal of time feeling rather pleased with how far I have come since first being introduced to Systems Theory in 2018 via The Leader’s Journey.[2] That book utilizes the principles of Systems Theory to emphasize the need to heal in one’s family of origin in order to lead a faith family well. But whatever I have understood, and the even less I have mastered, is just the tip of the iceberg considering the vast scale of application contained in Failure of Nerve.

Just in the arena of family I learned there is more to do than just become better differentiated as a parent. One of the best ways to prepare children for life is to is to care for their emotional well-being by supporting their own development as well-differentiated selves. In doing so, a parent responsibly “innoculates” the child.[3] By encouraging a repertoire of responses through our own practice, our family members become immunized for an increasingly anxious world.[4] Apparently, we can vaccinate for emotional and leadership dis-ease as well as physical disease![5] If only preparing children for life by becoming emotionally healthy leaders was given the same attention!

When my kids were small, I knew it was impossible to protect them from every single risk factor out there. I just figured if we could avoid choking hazards leading to death, they would be OK. I failed to account that beyond physical risks, there is a whole world of highly anxious people, systems, and institutions who will herd them together towards group-think. My daughter was temporarily caught up in institutionalized eradication of ‘diversity in the name of diversity’ at the state university she attended.[6] When she separated from the herd and spoke a word of differing viewpoint it cost her some important relationships. The risk of pain to stand in the place of healthy opposition is real. But I feel proud that she has the strength to stand up at such a young age. I am so thankful that I let go of the conflict of will that might otherwise have destroyed our relationship and backed off so she could properly “adolesce” into the young woman who is willing to risk being liked in order to suggest a healthier way of being to her peers.[7] She is a leader.

I just checked the counseling center’s website. The counselor we saw still practices there and her biography says her approach is based on Systems Theory. Now I can smile and know this same counselor I met by accident is exactly who we needed.



[1] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (10th Anniversary, Revised Edition). New York: Church Publishing, 2017, 65.

[2] Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor, and R. Robert Creech. The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation. Second edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020.

[3]  Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve, 126.

[4] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve, 121.

[5] Eve Poole. Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. London ; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Business, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2017, 12.

[6] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve, 110.

[7] Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve, 292.


About the Author

Julie O'Hara

16 responses to “Caught”

  1. Adam Cheney says:

    It is funny how parenting really does develop ourselves. Parenting certainly is a journey and not an easy one. Our kids have a hard time navigating the world they are growing up in but we have to parent them in that same world. I heard a kid got suspended from school recently for “mooning” another kid. My kids were shocked as they told me the story and I laughed and said I did the same thing so many times as a child. Are there any tools you have used or things you have done to develop your own non-anxious presence?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Adam, Your basic spiritual practices: reading, journaling, prayer, sabbath and occasional retreat – these are the basis for me personally. I have also intentionally sought connection with my family of origin choosing to stay in and have healthy relationships. I could describe it as ‘moving toward’ rather than taking my natural reactive approach to just “cut-off.” I also choose to listen for understanding and notice my inner-reactivity and do my best to form a response instead of “ready, fire, aim.” I am a work in process and so grateful to look back and know that Jesus has been healing me.

  2. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Julie!

    Your counselor was such a gift! When I look back on some earlier parenting days, I cringe at the anxious presence, desire to control, and reactivity. I think we have all taken our kids’ phones away in a desperate attempt to get their attention and bring conformity.

    As you were stepping into systems theory, were there any difficult changes that you needed to make? How did you become aware and get to a point of making the necessary change?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Christy, My daughters did not speak to each other for 5 years. I had to step out of being between them and stay connected to each one. I had to accept that there was not one single thing I could do, or make them do, to change things. Above all, I had to finally recognize that there was not going to be a quick fix.
      The relationship is turning around – I believe if I were still in the middle this would not be so.

  3. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Julie! Again, I can affix myself to the parenting challenge. We all want the best for our children, and without cloning them and wanting them to have the same experiences we had, our mode of protection includes emotional attachment. In the self-discovery process, what part of Friedman’s writing would you share as most beneficial for others in a similar situation?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Daren, I loved seeing Christopher on camera the other day! Becoming aware of triangles gives any leader an edge. Could be in a family, work or church Situation. You wrote about triangles – see also my response to Christy. I think it comes down to this, the more pressure a person puts on anyone in the system to change, the more things stay the same as the An emotional triangle is always finding its equilibrium. A better way is to stay relationally connected, but disengage from the anxiety of the triangle.

  4. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Good job mom! Parenting is so difficult! When my oldest became a drug addict and overdosed with 7 drugs in her system, as I was sitting in the emergency room with her, I asked what I could have done differently, and she said, “You never asked me to stop,” and I was shocked, but it was true. Her mom and I danced around it.
    By recognizing the value of individuality and differing viewpoints, you enabled your daughter to develop into a confident leader – I am sure you are proud of her.
    What simple thing will you tell her when she is getting ready to have kids from the wisdom you have learned?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Chris, I am so sorry for your traumatic experience. I won’t need to tell her, but I would say, let your child be their own person and show you who they are created to be and how they are made. Honor and love them with limits and above all, stay relationally connected.

    • mm Jennifer Eckert says:

      Great question! Great answer!

  5. Debbie Owen says:

    Julie, thank you for sharing this story so honestly. I used to do some parent coaching. I struggled to build a business because parents didn’t like it when – most of the time – I had to explain that I wasn’t going to “fix” their kid; they needed to change some things about themselves first.

    I also just went down a very long rabbit-hole to check out the book “The Leader’s Journey”. Thank you for that!

    Beyond parenting, what are one or two key ideas you take from this week’s reading for yourself as a leader in other situations?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Oh Debbie, that is the million dollar question. Truthfully, I had so many connections and ideas. Here is one thing that I’m chewing on, “Indeed, in any family or organization, seriousness is so commonly an attribute of the most anxious (read “difficult”) members that they can quite appropriately be considered to be functioning out of a reptilian regression.” Friedman, 101. After highlighting, my margin note was, “oh, sh**.” Definitely the first time I’ve written a cuss word on a book (‘cuz Jesus and I have worked pretty hard my on language…) But, it was a truthful reflection of the shock I felt when I recognized that my own ‘seriousness’ is a symptom of anxiety. You know how poker players have a ‘tell’? I just realized that when I am too serious, it is a ‘tell’ that I’m anxious. Watching back the last several years of personal leadership in a mental movie proves this truth to me. This is an exciting open pathway for me to explore. Thank you for asking.

  6. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    Great post, Julie. I could hear a hint of templating being developed when you talked about innoculation “By encouraging a repertoire of responses through our own practice.” I don’t have a question but I want to celebrate the growth you have done in the journey with your daughter. May you continue to be refined by God’s hand for his glory.

  7. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Julie, thank you for this amazing read! I love that despite being shocked at the therapist’s response, they served as a catalyst to change, and fairly quickly. Did I get that right, or did it take you some time? I’m curious because we all know how hard change can be, and you weren’t introduced to systems theory a year later, so why do you think you were able to hear those words and not simply dismiss them?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Akwése, I definitely felt some resistance, but in the sense of not wanting to look at it because deep inside I knew it was true. I suppose I already had a dawning awareness that I was overfocused on my daughter and her behavior.

  8. Chad Warren says:

    Julie, I was absolutely drawn in by your post and how you connected the insights of Friedman and Systems Theory to your parenting experience. Do you have any advice for being a non-anxious presence with a daughter who is prone to anxiety?

    • Julie O'Hara says:

      Hi Chad, Our kids are really taking on the anxiety of the world aren’t they? If I understand properly that we cannot ‘fix’ them, only work on ourselves, then I think the advice is to do everything possible to become as non-anxious as possible oneself.

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