Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve is a leader’s guide on how to do leadership by focusing on the principles of maturity, stamina, and responsibility. I connected with the author’s implied question, do you have nerve enough to lead others in today’s fast paced, data overloaded, and chaotically challenged workplace environments that are looking for leaders who can fix-it fast? This post will examine, compare, and integrate Freidman’s leadership themes into my Spiritual Warfare dissertation research. Being “well-differentiated” is a key theme that I will expound on as it relates to my lived theology and experiential leadership experiences.
First, I examined Friedman from a Bayardistic peripheral perspective. In other words, high above the leadership chaos, from a birds-eye-view, I surveyed Friedman’s ideas and principles to help me more effectively focus on my research. His major themes on leadership focus on anxiety, lack of nerve, and poorly differentiated self while his primary thesis says that leading others is more of an “emotional process rather than a cognitive phenomenon.” He believes that people, families, and organizations get trapped in a repeating “vicious cycle” of anxiety that comes from their reactions. I agree with Freidman’s paradigm and experienced similar life-lessons during my last 35 years of leadership in high risk – low frequency contexts that required organizational maturity, physical and emotional stamina, and a willingness to accept responsibility and accountability.
Second, I compared Freidman with some of our other LGP authors. For example, Elder would suggest that when reading Freidman, we should analyze and evaluate his ideas with the overall goal of leadership improvement. Since we can “only know in part” the leadership solution, I remain encouraged and inspired by Freidman’s work to de-mythicize false and ineffective forms of leadership. Eaton says that Friedman’s book has “stood up to the passing of time.” He says leadership is more imagination than technique; something Friedman calls being “well-differentiated.” I like the imagination side of leadership and think it fits “brilliantly” into Dr. Clark’s “I wonder” principle on leadership in global perspectives.
Comparing Freidman’s Failure of Nerve to Holmquitst’s Theology of Leadership Journal I saw some interesting similarities between being well-differentiated and having connections to the Authentic Leadership Theory ideals of “self-awareness, relational transparency, balanced processing, and internalized moral perspective.” Freidman describes his well-differentiated type of leadership as someone who has clear life goals, who handles challenges without becoming anxious, and who can maintain a paradoxical tension between letting go and holding on at the same time. I get it! I think this type of leadership is part learned skill and part spiritual gift. Depending on the Romans 8:28 factors in play for our good and God’s glory, I see this kind of differentiated approach being very effective in following, serving, and leading others.
Third, I see the integration of Freidman’s maturity, stamina, and responsibility principles like tools to add to a ministry leader’s toolbox. I think it is a positive way to improve personal leadership praxis while also advancing the Gospel by helping to train, equip, and prepare others to finish the Great Commission. I commend the author for creating emotional space to reflect and consider the negative effects he sees in leadership. He describes the negative influential grip on leadership by calling out the three leadership fallacies of expertise (data and technique), empathy (disguise and manipulation), and self (autocracy and narcissism). Linenberger and Schmidt support Freidman’s differentiated leadership movement and agree with his thesis that empathy, expertise, and self are foundational fallacies in today’s leadership models.
I practiced many types of leadership in the past 35 years. I subscribe to a combination of servant-situational-transformational leadership. In other words, I use whatever works at the time and pray for spiritual wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit. It has been a journey for me, and I suspect that most Christian leaders travel a similar path with successes and failures along the way. Differentiated leadership, the type that Freidman advocates, does indeed stand the test of time. He calls it “self-differentiating” leadership because it rises above all other types of leadership by preserving the self of others, promoting community, and motivating goal accomplishment.
In summary, I examined, compared, and integrated Freidman’s self-differentiated leadership theme into my dissertation bibliography. I recommend this book for the Christian leader’s library and pray that Christian leaders will follow God’s command to, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9).