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

Don’t Call Me the B-word!

Written by: on October 14, 2022

When I started reading Failure of Nerve, I was very excited about the basic premise of leadership plaguing our organizations and families. The author, Friedman, argues that leadership is in a rut. Whenever the organization or family is in a state of anxiety, there will always be a nerve failure.[1] According to Friedman, the primary cause for the leadership rut the entanglement of the two – concept and emotional thinking in organizations. Essentially, concept thinking is based on current social sciences and psychological concepts on how to get others to do what they do not want to do. In contrast, the emotional basis for leadership does include “feelings. However, the word also refers primarily to the instinctual side”[2] of humans. It is worth mentioning here because I want to address it later in the blog that Friedman establishes the connection of the emotional processes to “colonized protoplasm”[3] in biology.

On page 13, Friedman summarizes the four significant similarities found in organizations and families that contribute to the problem of how they operate. He briefly explains 1) a regressive, counter-evolutionary trend defined as the dependent members of the organization tending to set the agenda and systems are modified based on the lowest or weakest point; 2) a devaluation of the process of individuation is when a leader relies on the expertise or reports of others versus their decision-making capabilities; 3) an obsession with data and technique – the inclination to become information junkies; and, 4) a widespread misunderstanding about the relational nature of destructive processes in families and institutions. The destructive processes is when the leader assumes that the dysfunction can be controlled through rationale, loving, insightful, values-based modeling.[4]

It was the last point, number four, that I began to diverge from Friedman. I believe a leader can and should lead based on rational, loving, insightful, intentional, and should model integrity. These are all of the qualities that Christ modeled for us. As the body of Christ, we have the Advocate or the Comforter to help us through difficulties, and in turn, we are to be available to help others. John 16:6b. When organizations or family members are anxious, we are to be present for them in a non-anxious condition, as Freidman explains. But I would say that my ability to stand still amid the storm comes from my faith and not on a “colonized cell.”

The concept of the prokaryote versus the eukaryotes[5]was a unique way of tracing the evolution of the emotional processes and characteristics indicative of good leaders. The premise of cell evolution is what Friedman uses to justify the fallacies of self. Leaders, according to Friedman, should embrace autocracy and not integrity. Intellectually I understand the concept, but spiritually I think the message permits the lack of integrity and values in organizations and in many families.

On page 197, I finally gave up on Friedman. I think he gives valid points and contributes to the discussion on leadership – particularly with self-differentiation as a leader. One of the examples he uses is when a spouse (wife) is called the B-word and describes it as the beginning of becoming self-differentiated. Not only is this un-Christ-like behavior and, therefore, inappropriate behavior between a married couple – it is not something that should be tolerated. When I was raised, and even now, World War III would start if I was called the B-word. I’m what you might call “old-school,” and today, that term may be used a lot in music, social media, and TV, but that does not make it acceptable to curse another human in that manner. Self-differentiation is an excellent quality to have as a leader, but based on the value received as a child of God.

To end, I could not help to compare Friedman with a book I read this summer by Brene Brown, Dare to Lead. There were many similarities between Brown and Friedman, in the problems that exist in leadership today. However, Ms. Brown emphasizes courageous leadership. Brown defines a leader “as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.”[6] Lastly, I’ll end with a quote from her book on page 22, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”


[1] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), 2.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ibid., 170.

[6] Brene Brown, Date to Lead (New York: Random House, 2018), 4.

About the Author


Audrey Robinson

13 responses to “Don’t Call Me the B-word!”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    I must have overlooked page 197! I agree with you that differentiation should have it’s premise in something positive/Biblical and not in derogatory language. You state: “based on the value received as a child of God.” I will need to go back to the text to investigate. I am surprised the editor did not advise against this use of language.
    Thank you for mentioning the Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead. I would like to know more of your thoughts on your final quote. Christ’s heart was broken. Do you believe Jesus was a well differentiated leader while still being generous of heart?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I absolutely believe Jesus was the epitome of a differentiated leader. First, He never approached a situation anxiously. He was sure of himself because He stayed on target with His purpose – doing the Father’s business. He knew exactly who He was and never deviated from His identity. Jesus regularly discerned who the real culprits were and regularly called them out for being hypocritical and leading the people astray. Yet Jesus took time to lovingly model integrity, he was firm with unkingdom-like behavior (competitiveness, wanting to retaliate, and racism), and he was patient. Most of all He served others.

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    Awesome post and great perspective, Audrey. The use of language was apparent throughout the book and it didn’t bother me until I got to this section too. I agree with you that there is better way. I think the point he was making was relevant for self assessment however, I think intional deragoratory remarks send the wrong message and are unnecessary for a leaders.

    I think words are words for the most part but as leaders we should always watch our tone and words so we stand out as an example. I tell my kids regularly that swearing is common in the world, so we shouldn’t do it because it makes us like everyone else. We’re called to a higher character and people will notice that we do not participate. I also think in a marriage it’s even more unacceptable I do not agree with Friedman on this subject. I’ve never called anyone a B-word and never will but to say this is “headed in the right direction” or “ask him to say it more” seems ridiculous. I think it’s degrading and unbiblical. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul writes “husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” I don’t think Chrit would use insulting or derogatory language and this would not be an example of loving your wife like Christ loved the church. I’m glad you pointed this out. I remember reading this thinking it didn’t fit with a well-rounded leader and for most people, it will not help them reflect. If I were spoken to like that, I think it would do the opposite of motivate me.

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I agree. As believers, we should not have to compromise on our standards. We can always take the high road and sometimes the world will criticize – but we will have the assurance that all things will work together for our good.

      My Son has never heard me utter a curse word. But it’s really about authentically living the word.

      Thank you for your comments.

      • Tonette Kellett says:

        Michael and Audrey,

        I’m commenting on both of your posts, because it is this use of language that I disagreed on in the book as well.

        I also did not like Friedman’s stand on the topic of inappropriate language and leadership roles. I do not believe the two go together at all.

        In the past 9 years I have had two different bosses. The previous one was foul-mouthed and coarse. Everything she said was derogatory. Even her jesting was inappropriate for the work place. The current one is a Christian man. He has a servant heart. He is gentle in word and in deed. In looking at the workplace as a whole under their leadership, it is a much more productive place under the second! People respond to kindness and encouragement!

        Thank you Audrey, and Michael, for your posts and thoughts.

  3. Alana Hayes says:

    Oh my goodness Audrey: I had no idea that this was in here until I read your post and then searched that word. Upon further investigation It actually comes up more than once.

    This brings me to the solidification of my hesitation on the process we are being asked to do: How can we comment and post on a book like we have read it? Going forward do you think there is a better way for us to speak on a text without the omission of “we didn’t read this cover to cover?”

    To me its absolutely horrifying that I even made a comment at all of positivity about this book when there are critical points he is making of this gravity. Within the digital age if my daughter ever came across my blog speaking life into this author I would be embarrassed. In regards to my personal life I have made it my common practice to never speak on something, or even respond to something that I didn’t know, read, or understand 100 percent. I sit back, soak it conversations, research, and then respond.

    (Edit): It just dawned on me that I spent hours researching this book, watching others videos/responses, watching him in discussions, and reading synopsis based on this book. Not one person mentioned what you have brought up. NOT ONE.

    I really like what you said though, in that we can use his ideas loosely to aide in the discussion of leadership. I admire your thoughts, and value your courageous leadership to speak out when you didn’t agree with something!

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I do think there is a risk in how we are approaching our “reading”. For this particular book, “something” just was not sitting well with me. It started with the concept of the emotional process. I came away with it as really a “worldly” term used to substitute for the discernment God has given us to see beyond the natural circumstances. Some call it intuition – but it’s more than that. That’s why I kept reading through the book to make sure I was comprehending. And the more I read – the more things fell apart for me. So the risk and sacrifice of being late for the post paled in comparison to making sure I was interpreting based on my worldview and experiences. I hope that makes sense.

      Trust the Holy Spirit’s leading.

  4. Great post, Audrey,
    I am glad you shared about Brené Brown and compared her work to Friedman’s. I didn’t find Friedman inspiring as an authority on the kind of leadership I want to study. I have loved Brene’s recent book Daring Greatly. I love her insights on vulnerability and guidance to stand out regardless of numerous challenges “Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability; this is Darling greatly.”

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I hope to read more of Brene Brown. There is an authenticity about her.

      I’m not sure she would be considered a primary resource – but she is a research-based author and she is certainly credentialed.

      Thanks for your comments.

  5. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Hi Audrey,
    Thanks for your post! I so appreciated it. I like
    that you point out that Friedman has some valuable ideas, like differentiation, amidst ideas that really deviate from our leadership instincts. And, that we need to challenge our readings and align them against what Jesus teaches, which can be very different. I find myself wondering if Ed Friedman put this book together, would he have written it the way it was finally published? He might have had some good push back.

    It is a challenge, isn’t it, when we are not reading the whole book, to put together thoughtful posts? You pointed out that you started to have some gut level red flags that bothered you and therefore, set out to read more of the book to verify if what you were feeling and thinking was true. I like that approach and am thankful for your reminder to trust our intuition and explore further.

    Also, the quote from Brown is amazing. I think that might be something C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife passed away? It’s powerful!

  6. Audrey – I felt a similar apprehension to Friedmand when he discussed the required “selfishness” of a differentiated leader. As Christian leaders, we always have to balance leadership advice with Christ’s commands to love one another. Thank you for making this point in an eloquent way.

  7. Audrey,

    This was very brave and courageous for you to take a stand on this book, way to go. For me personally, in the beginning of Friedman’s book, God used it to correct me, some things in my own life and ministry. Mainly, for me to slow down a little and to be more present.

    In Covid I really resorted back to being more task oriented rather then people oriented.

    Coming from a construction past, and some of the head pastors I have been under, I have seen some unhealthy leaders, and some great healthy leaders. I have gleaned from both healthy and unhealthy. I love in Numbers 22 where God even used a donkey.

    I am very thankful for you being brave and taking a stand. I admire and respect you, and appreciated our conversations on the advances.

    Peace and Blessings 🙂

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Thank you for the kind words. I value your thoughts and opinions.

      I find that I am in a season in my life where I have to speak my authentic voice. Not everyone will agree, but I purpose to “speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ,…” Ephesians 4:15. So I didn’t think my stand regarding the book was courageous – but I receive the compliment.

      Your heart for God’s people is amazing. Continue to allow Him to use you mightily.

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