So Just Make a Decision!
Edwin H. Friedman lamented the fact that leaders were not more decisive. He said that “leadership in America is stuck in the rut of trying harder and harder without obtaining significantly new results.” Why? Leaders experience ‘paralysis’ because of their inadequate concept of the ‘social science construction of reality’. Their construction does not explain the emotional processes. By emotional he doesn’t mean ‘feelings’; he means “the instinctual side of our species that we share in common with all other forms of life.”
The terminology in this book left me finding myself wishing Jen was right here so I could ask her to explain things. But the book was organized well with many helpful summaries. What can I learn from Dr. Friedman’s experiences? I will relate his thesis and explanations and interact with at least one concept in each category.
First of all, his explanation of the problem:
Leaders are in a ‘gridlock’ situation. They are on a treadmill trying harder and harder. They are looking for answers rather than reframing the questions. They have either/or thinking creating false dichotomies. Society is chronically anxious. We are oriented towards safely rather than adventure.
Interaction: We definitely have a problem in society with thinking in either/or categories. We have read books to help us with this; William T. Cavanaugh helped us with a Christian vision of economics. James Davison Hunter gave us ways as diverse Christians to think about politics. The so –called Nashville Statement is an example of Christians drawing the line for other Christians. Of course we must stand firm on our beliefs but not to the extent of casting out anyone else who disagrees with us.
Secondly, what he sees as barriers to fixing the problem:
We spend too much time analyzing data and continuing to look for the ‘perfect’ book or solution rather than just making the decision. There is a false type of empathy that doesn’t help the person we are trying to help. There is confusion over the meanings of ‘selfish’, ‘self-ish’ and ‘self-differentiated’.
Interaction: I don’t know enough about the field of psychology to say whether he is correct in his observations on empathy or not. I was terribly alarmed at statements like: “Where one partner can be taught to regulate his or her own reactivity, the other will often begin to imitate that behavior, and adaptation can ultimately be reversed.” Adaptation? Are we trainable like animals? And what if the partner keeps on beating the wife while she’s trying to “stop shifting blame’ and look at her own faults first? Friedman reiterates, “For when one individual in a marriage stands up to another, while the other will not like it at first, he or she generally will begin to find the person more attractive.” Attractive? In what way? Really, Jen, is this true?
Third, his solutions:
Leaders must take the initiative. How? In accordance with his thesis that more attention should be paid to the emotional side he responded, “Answer: by positioning oneself in such a way that the natural forces of emotional life carry one in the right direction.”  The leader’s presence is what matters more than what they do. It is the source of the strength of the self-differentiated leader whose characteristics include: integrity, concern for the growth of others, adventurous enough to seek change, ability to give voice to all members of the group, separate but detached in a healthy way, shows no display of anxiety herself and much more.
Interaction: Many of these ideas have his own non-Christian presuppositions contained in them. But I think Max De Pree and David Livermore have helped my thinking about leadership enough to see what characteristics we can have as Christian leaders. I will take away as many as fit in with a Christian worldview. It is actually a confirmation of my faith that Dr. Friedman in spite of our vastly different worldviews comes to the same conclusion about one of the most important aspects of leadership – Integrity.
To summarize – In order to be a better leader we need to get off the treadmill of trying too hard.
Relax. Go with our intuitions more. Don’t spend so long trying to make decisions that we actually appear incapable to others.
At the same time don’t be too hasty and look for quick fixes. A balance is needed. “Differentiation is the lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in balance through the reciprocal external and internal processes of self-definition and self-regulation.”
And don’t forget adventure, the freedom to make mistakes, and playfulness!
 Edwin H. Friedman. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017). 3.
 Ibid., 4.
 For more about this see: http://www.christianpost.com/news/some-evangelicals-express-qualms-about-nashville-statement-say-its-too-narrow-197363/
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 197.
 Ibid., 244.
 For the full list, see page 245.
 Ibid., 194
 Ibid., pgs. 48, 49, 70.
6 responses to “So Just Make a Decision!”
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“Differentiation is the lifelong process of striving to keep one’s being in balance through the reciprocal external and internal processes of self-definition and self-regulation.” Yes Mary the key is finding the balance. It takes work and presence to understand how both the external and internal processes give way to leadership maturity. Many will spin their wheels trying to manage the chaos through ineffective quick fixes. Those who truly desire to have sustainable leadership practices must maintain a high threshold and differentiate themselves in order to make the necessary decisions to move the organization forward.
Mary I agree that there was a lot of information flowing through this book but as usual you share it exquisitely.
Mary… your title says it all: “So just make a decision!” Great title and summation of Friedman. I like what you said: “We spend too much time analyzing data and continuing to look for the ‘perfect’ book or solution rather than just making the decision.” I don’t remember where I read, but someone said, it’s better to make the wrong decision than no decision at all. You can work to correct a wrong decision but you can’t correct a decision that hasn’t been made. Of course, it’s a general statement about decision making. It doesn’t mean that we make quick decisions without information, thought and prayer, particularly when we are making decisions that impact people lives and livelihoods. But if we’re going to lead…sooner than later decisions will need to be made. I wish there was a playbook of, as you say, “perfect” decisions! Enjoyed your post Mary!
“Friedman reiterates, ‘For when one individual in a marriage stands up to another, while the other will not like it at first, he or she generally will begin to find the person more attractive.' Attractive? In what way? Really, Jen, is this true?”
This made me laugh, Mary. I could hear your voice asking this question and I really want to hear Jen’s answer as well. Speaking for myself only, there is NOTHING less attractive to me than a person who would allow me to run over the top of them. It’s hard to respect someone who doesn’t value themselves.
I’ll keep watching to see if Jen chimes in here…
Oh, Mary, the squirrels were a great asset theme to your post– love them!
To keep with your metaphor… yesterday our neighbor’s cat ran out across the street and got hit by a car. I saw it happen and had to share the news with our neighbor and help clean it up. Sometimes, we do make a decision, turn it into a reality, and fail miserably, don’t we. Should that possibility of failure keep us safely on the sidewalk? Friedman, suggests not, but to choose adventure over safety.
What a playful post Mary! Way to take the words to heart and have fun doing your blog. I loved all your pictures that comically complimented your words. Well-done! Did I mention I really like squirrels? I have a funny story with them that I’ll have to tell you about. They are kind of our family mascot.
To speak to your paragraph about us being able to influece another and increasing our attractability when we assert ourselves, to a degree this is true. And I also find leaving the relationship is also an important action to take when the other person is dangerous, life-threatening, and lacking insight or the ability to grow. Asserting yourself could be a very dangerous move to a person who wants to control you instead of connect with you. Separtion or departure can be an important response when a person is abusive and unteachable. There is so much more to say to this, and I did find him making rather rash and all-inclusive statements that I did not fully agree with. Good eye Mary. You sound like a self-differntiated person with a strong sense of self.