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

Herding and the Socialized Mind

Written by: on October 19, 2019

As an ordained rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant, Edwin H. Friedman tapped into the emotional processes within society describing the failure of nerve in leaders as a result. According to Friedman, leadership is often neutralized by four emotional responses: reactivity, herding, blame displacement and a quick-fix mentality.

The characteristics that define herding in highly anxious families caught this reader’s attention: “togetherness as a supreme value,” “totalism in thinking and relating,” “wills conflict, polarization and cut-offs,” “organizes around dysfunction,” and “adapts to immaturity.” As a result, “leaders become indecisive because, tyrannized by sensibilities, they function to soothe rather than challenge and to seek peace rather than progress.”[1]

Keegan and Lahey give a description of the development of individuals who would be prone to herding behavior. It is stage three of their human development theory defined as a socialized mind:

The socialized mind strongly influences how information is received and attended to, as well as how it is sent. Because maintaining alignment with important others and valued ‘surrounds’ is crucial to the coherence of one’s being at this stage, the socialized mind is highly sensitive to and influence by, what it picks up…This sense of self can express itself primarily in our relationships with people, with schools of thought (our ideas and beliefs), or both.[2]

The authors assign the percentage of the American public (as of 2016) in this stage or below at 58-59%.[3] Among this group, self is only certain with those people or ideas they identify with. In other words, when herding.

In reflecting upon these thoughts this reader pondered the tendency of the church to applaud these characteristics as godly. Valuing togetherness in the name of unity, totalism in thinking and relating in the name of agreement, conflict of wills, polarization and cut-offs as being “of the flesh” rather than for healthy differentiation, and ultimately denying that we organize around dysfunction and adapt to immaturity are all too familiar. Why do we behave as if unity is impossible with difference? Why do we fear divergent thinking and conflict? How can an organization whose mission is to make disciples short circuit the growth process, become enablers, and adapt to the immature rather than call them to maturity? Evangelism can even come across as a quick fix rather than the beginning of life-long transformation.

Life processes evolve by taking their time…Growth, whether of a flower or of a baby, follows similar laws to this day, and growth, meaning maturation, evolves in the same way. There is no gene for maturity. But the chronically anxious family thinks it can modify life with technique…The chronically anxious family is impatient.[4]

One wonders if the success orientation that has permeated the evangelical world has brought about the a faulty characterization of pastoral shepherding and thus, leadership behaviors that actually perpetuate herding are assumed. Leading the flock of God means comforting the disturbed, and also disturbing the comforted. It means leading them to new pastures even though they’re comfortable in the old because a wise shepherd knows when the grass is getting too scarce where they are. A discerning shepherd sees the dangers of wolves lurking in the shadows or masquerading in sheep’s clothing and calls it out. I wonder if we have perceived shepherding as soft instead of firm, agreeable instead of gentle, empathetic rather than showing tough love, and when complaining begins we placate to the sheep rather than lead them.

Friedman develops a well orbed profile of a leader needed in anxious systems as well-differentiated. One who is comfortable standing out from the crowd. One who is willing to risk, to prod because her/his sense of identity and worth is not found from being part of the herd, nor does confidence come because the crowd agrees. “Our response is always far more influential than our chronically anxious society leads us to believe.”[5]

Chapter five in Failure of Nerve opens with a Yiddish proverb that addresses the socialized mind: “If I am me because you are you, and you are you because I am me, then I am nothing, and you are nothing.”[6] A healthy sense and awareness of self and differentiation from others is critical to mature leadership. This is another area of confused godliness as this disposition is often considered selfish. Yet, a healthy sense of self is actually humbling as one recognizes she/he is simply a steward of the gift given to us by God and we will answer to God for how we stewarded who we were made to be. Jesus modeled this in kenosis for only can one who is self-differentiated actually empty himself for the sake of others. Keegan and Lahey describe this stage of development as self-authoring with the ultimate goal of self-transforming. A self-authoring mind can separate itself from the crowd and finds its authority internally rather than externally, is in alignment with its own beliefs and values, can self-direct and take stands, set boundaries, and takes responsibility for its own voice and actions. A self-transforming mind goes one step further and is able to discern the limits of its own ideologies and personal authority. It is open to opposing views and can appreciate and embrace multiple systems beyond its own.

There is no greater challenge or need in our world today, than for leaders to see the critical nature of our own maturity and self-differentiation. This will require strong spiritual practices, disciplined self-care, and life-long learning and development, the will to stand and to speak, to be full of grace and truth.

[1] Edwin H. Freidman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1870.

[2] Robert Keegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization (Boston: Harvard Business School publishing, 2016) 63-64.

[3] Ibid., 76.

[4] Freidman, Kindle Loc. 1754.

[5] Ibid., Kindle Loc. 3046.

[6] Ibid., Kindle Loc. 3097.


About the Author

Tammy Dunahoo

Tammy is a lover of God, her husband, children and grandchildren. She is the V.P. of U.S. Operations/General Supervisor of The Foursquare Church.

5 responses to “Herding and the Socialized Mind”

  1. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Tammy, I love your two points about what Friedman points out and the confusion within the church that pushes in the opposite direction. The limits of togetherness is something we need to consider as Christians. I was struck through this whole reading that if togetherness is the highest “kingdom value” then self-differentiation will never be championed. It is such a tricky thing and your writing and other resources you pulled in help to give handles. Thank you Pastor.

  2. Thank Tammy, your post has lit a light bulb in my mind and helped me to see through the tension that we experience between the need for togetherness in church but also the greater need for leaders to differentiate themselves, in order to help the flock of God. The leader has to be discerning to avoid the pull towards “soothing” the flock but help them by disturbing the comforted towards growth.

  3. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Wow, powerful questions, Tammy. “Why do we behave as if unity is impossible with difference? Why do we fear divergent thinking and conflict?” I so agree with these complicated questions in today’s society. I have come to the conclusion that the opposite of love is not hate….it is fear. People are afraid of diversity. It’s so sad, since diversity in thought, action, culture, etc. is what should challenge us to listen with unjudging ears and to love unconditionally. Thanks for sharing, Tammy.

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You have given your life to leading pastors and local congregations and it shows in your understanding of “herding”. Perhaps a self-differentiated Spirit leader must focus more on what the Spirit is doing within rather than without (in the congregation)? I think Friedman’s work hits upon why so many leave the pastorate and the ministry, especially when the congregation is pulling in so many diverse self-interest directions. Thanks for your wisdom and the exposure to Keegan and Lahey.

  5. Sean Dean says:

    I wonder if the desire for “likes” will cause for leaders to become less differentiated over time. One wonders what the effect of social media will be upon church leaders in the future. Will they be able to be comfortable standing apart or will the drive for acceptance pull them into safe decision making. Lots to think about in this post.

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