DLGP

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

Courageous and Unique Leadership

Written by: on October 7, 2021

Failure of Nerve may be classified as a classic contribution to social science, particularly the subject of leadership from the perspective of psychology. It seems to align with the sub-discipline of Strengths Psychology, which encourages the discovery and development of inherent strengths, rather than an unhealthy focus on weaknesses. The book is about leadership as a “function of emotional systems” especially courage, and not merely about leadership style or an accumulation of data[1].

It is divided into two parts. The first, comprising the first five chapters, highlights how contemporary leadership is failing due to limited imagination as well as fallacies about data, survival, and autocracy. The concluding part, which includes three chapters and an epilogue, among other things clarifies the traits of well-differentiated leadership. [2]

Friedman addresses the problem of anxiety within leadership noting that “when anxiety reaches certain thresholds, even the most learned idea can begin to function as superstitions.” [3]This is crucial because of the alarming rate of mental health disorders today, a lot of which may be rooted in anxiety. Within my ministry context I engage with several marginalized families with breadwinners who are often very anxious because they are not sure where their next meal will come from. Thus, Friedman suggests that although the family leaders (parents) I work with are not lacking in potential or creativity, their anxiety cripples their ability to lead with excellence. Not surprisingly, the Bible urges all not to be anxious but through prayer to embrace the peace of God (Phi. 4:6). Leaders who have not read the Bible or Friedman may wonder how to live without anxiety in a world disrupted by Covid and several other challenges. Yet history shows this is possible.

Friedman also addresses the importance of self-differentiation among leaders at all levels. This resonates with the Biblical idea of being wonderfully and fearfully created (Ps. 139:14). One can only imagine what life might be like if parents in the low-income communities I work with would come to terms with this idea of self-differentiation. Presumably, this will lead to identifying their unique talents, and hopefully developing these into strengths that make a unique and significant contribution to society. A second reason why I agree with self-differentiation is because of how it draws attention to the origin of human diversity: a great God who transcends culture, location and generation.

While Friedman is outstanding in his argument about leadership being a function of emotional systems, I believe his work would have benefited even more by including a little more of the spiritual dimension of leadership. For example, based on the leadership model of Jesus, we may conclude that prayer is a significant quality in the life of leaders who wish to make a sustainable impact in the world. Perhaps more than anything else, prayer highlights human dependence on God. Yet prayer is scantily mentioned in Friedman’s model, thus indirectly undermining God’s role in human leadership. In this regard, I see Friedman’s argument as being a little incomplete. Otherwise, Failure of Nerve is an excellent book that will help emerging and established leaders alike for many more years.

 

[1]  Friedman, Edwin H., Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. (New York: Seabury Books, 2017. Kindle), location 123

[2] (Friedman, Treadwell and Beal 2017) location 4461

[3] (Friedman, Treadwell and Beal 2017) location 174

About the Author

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Henry Gwani

Community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

11 responses to “Courageous and Unique Leadership”

  1. mm Eric Basye says:

    Henry,

    Great post. Thanks! What I especially love is your bringing Scripture into your responses! Well done. This speaks to your struggle with Friedman not including more of this in his writing. It seems to me that you are a leader who seeks to do just that. Good work.

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Much thanks Eric for your kind words and comment about including scripture in our posts. One thing that struck me about Friedman is his very brilliant mind. In view of him being a Rabbi, his intelligence seems like yet another outstanding example of the Abrahamic covenant manifesting in modern times

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry, I always appreciate how you bring your ministry context into your weekly posts. I enjoy being reminded that while the specifics may be different, the issues we face as humans and as those leading others are similar. I think that Freidman’s work plays well into the community development model and the work you are focusing on with your NPO. In terms of the spiritual components, you may enjoy reading works by David Benner or Peter Scazzero — I feel both have similar thematic to Friedman but with more of a spiritual emphasis.

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Much thanks Kayli, you’re one of the most resourceful people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Always pointing in the right direction. I greatly appreciate your recommendation of Benner and Scazzero

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, great job laying out Friedman’s structure and the critique of wanting more of a spiritual dimension included. Thank you also for relating the work to your ministry context. It sounds like your work deals with many urgent needs that require great wisdom. May God bless you ministry. My wife was born and raised in South Africa and that land is special to us both. Hope to see you there next year!

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Thanks for your kind words Roy. I didn’t know you and your wife have such a connection to South Africa! I first came here in 2005 and immediately fell in love with this beautiful country, that in so many ways reflects the beauty and diversity we see in America. Looking forward to meeting next year

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    That was a thoughtful essay, Henry. As Friedman addresses anxiety in his book, I agree that a more spiritual dimension would have been welcomed. Perhaps he made a deliberate decision not to go there, but I think it would have added an extra layer of depth to his discussion. Leaders must be aware of this dimension of people even if it is a non-religious organization.

    • mm Henry Gwani says:

      Thanks for your kind words Troy. You’re right that perhaps more than ever before, we as leaders must be aware of the spiritual dimension of life, and include scripture and spirituality in how we lead ourselves, families and teams. Much blessings in your work

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Henry, like others have already commented, I deeply appreciate your skill to weave scripture and personal context with your reading of Friedman.
    I understand your critique of Friedmans lack of obvious spiritual connections. I though found many moments that I could hear his spiritual voice in subtle ways. For instance (although he was Jewish) I heard clear connections to the Trinity when he talks about The Natural History of Self starting on pg176 and again on pg 196. When he goes into the biology of the brain pg 124-136.
    I would appreciate hearing more about how the nuances of self-differentiation guide you as you minister to those who are anxious.

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Henry, I really appreciate your reference to the leaders need for reliance on prayer. I wonder if Christian leaders are really reliant on the Lord through prayer and the principles of the Word if they would be more self-differentiating? I also wonder if they would be better able to identify, empower and release those they lead in their God-given strengths to resolve their own issues?

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Henri, thank you for this excellent summary of Friedman’s book. I learn from you every week in how you summarize themes and structure. I also appreciated your vision and hope for how his principal of self-differentiation could release now hidden potential in those with whom you work! I’m curious to learn more about how you will put his thinking into the language of the people, especially those who may not have higher levels of education. I’m grappling with this in my own NPO, so would love to hear your thoughts.

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