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

Unlocking a Nerve

Written by: on January 26, 2023

I do not believe in coincidence. I often smile when puzzle pieces emerge uniquely by the Spirit though. There is something that is so incredibly cool and fulfilling when the fingerprint of the Spirit is all over you or the things you come in contact with. Whether it’s being assigned a book at the perfect time… or meeting the right person… that leads to another match somewhere else… the doors continue to open. The books serve as guides that unlock a new layer or connection with the Spirit in me and continue to increase the fullness of God in my life, my family, and my leadership. I am grateful for the timing of each lesson and for the opportunity to give Failure of Nerve a second read with a new lens.

Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix is an essential read for anyone interested in leadership and organizational dynamics. Through his years as a family therapist, Edwin Friedman has come to understand that effective leadership requires more than just technical knowledge. It also necessitates emotional maturity and self-awareness. In this book, he examines how leaders can take responsibility for their own behavior while still holding others accountable, a balance that is often difficult to achieve but necessary if we are to create healthy organizations with lasting impact. Friedman draws on his extensive experience working with families and religious institutions alike. Offering practical insights into how leaders can develop healthier relationships within their teams by understanding human nature better.

Coaching and team building have been on my mind for weeks now. Camacho’s book, Mining for Gold [1] unlocked something in me that has been extremely beneficial in such a short amount of time. I love the process of coaching in the Spirit and I have started using it to some degree in my ministry, my Portfolio Project, and even my family dynamics. Combining the advice from Camacho and Friedman has helped me see outside of the immediate emotions I’m having and have a greater awareness of tension, fears, hesitation, and other sensations that originate with certain topics, tasks, and perspectives of those involved.

Friedman emphasizes the importance of creating a resilient culture where people feel safe enough to express themselves authentically without fear or judgment from those around them. Something which he believes will lead not only towards greater collaboration but also higher levels of productivity across all areas of an organization’s operations. This semester has helped me realize the importance of safe spaces, expression, coaching in the Spirit, and authentic leadership. Friedman provides insight into the protection of these spaces and positive outcomes by overcoming or avoiding ego barriers. “The emotional barrier that associates self with autocracy and narcissism rather than with integrity and individuality has to be crossed before leadership in America can be free to venture in “harm’s way.”[2] Awareness of the barriers is beneficial and can lead to a new positive direction. Reframing situations, goals, objections, or anything in a way that meets individuals where they are can decrease emotional setbacks and offer new perspectives.

A Failure of Nerve is thought-provoking on many levels. I believe this book is one that requires multiple reads and will offer immeasurable benefits to leaders at each stage of their life. Friedman’s exploration of how traditional leadership models within religious organizations are failing to address current challenges can be applied to many organizations and business models. The book argues that leaders must have the “nerve” to confront difficult issues and navigate through conflicts instead of avoiding them. It emphasizes the importance of embracing change and taking risks as part of effective leadership. Additionally, it encourages leaders to embrace diversity in order for their organization or group to grow and thrive. Too often we rely on a “quick fix” for any problem and we live in a society where “wanting and getting it now” is the norm for most desires. Friedman says “the twin problems confronting leadership in our society today, the failure of nerve and the desire for a quick fix, are not the result of overly strong self but of weak or no self.”[3]

By addressing these topics, this book provides readers with valuable insights into how modern organizations can become more successful by adapting their approach toward leadership practices. Friedman argues that differentiation is the key that allows leaders to navigate through conflicts more effectively and make better decisions when faced with difficult situations. “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.”[4]

Lastly, Friedman provides insight into how contemporary culture influences decision-making processes. The book offers both warnings against potential pitfalls and constructive strategies designed to help equip Christians to navigate them successfully without compromising their faith. It serves as a reminder to us to remain vigilant and faithful even when faced with challenges and times of changeability. A Failure Nerve improves effective leadership in Christ’s name and I recommend all Christian leaders refer to this book regularly.

[1] Camacho, Tom; Mining for Gold

[2] Friedman, Edwin; Failure of Neve. 192

[3] Ibid, 193

[4] Ibid, 213

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

10 responses to “Unlocking a Nerve”

  1. Kristy Newport says:


    Great blog
    This is helping me reflect on what is currently going on in my family. It is very difficult to venture into harms way! I am grateful for this book that is helping me take hold of differentiation.
    I have found myself reading this quote several times:

    “The emotional barrier that associates self with autocracy and narcissism rather than with integrity and individuality has to be crossed before leadership in America can be free to venture in “harm’s way.”

    I am leaning into harms way with my family. How have you been leaning into harms way (as a self differentiated leader)?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Kristy. Yes! I am and that is why I am also drawn to it. The emotional triangles are dangerous and almost entice repeated behaviors like the devil adding stress or tempting me to overreact. The Spirit is my calming and differentiated leadership guide. I have to stop and pray, sometimes even repeat the name of Jesus a few times in serious times of discomfort. I can tell when I am connected and disconnected and do my best to keep that link alive inside me.

  2. Tonette Kellett says:


    I also enjoyed reading this book a second time much more than I ever thought I would. And in fact, I got a lot more out of it this second time around. After having read so many more books over the last semester and the beginning of this one, we have more to relate Friedman’s work too. That’s a good thing. As always, I appreciate your insights! Wonderful blog!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Tonette. Failure of Nerve is similar to the Bible where you could read it 1000 times and get something new out of it each time. I’d still take the Bible every time if I had to choose but it is a great book that I also enjoyed more the second time around. Thanks.

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    You pointed out that Friedman teaches about leadership from an emotional processes perspective rather than a technical solution perspective. Far too often we settle for quick-fix technical solutions rather than the hard work of being a mature, emotionally stable presence. Thank you for your thoughts on this Michael!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, David. I agree and wish I did not relate to this as much as I do. I understand the need for a mature and rational decision but when there is a fire we just want to put it out sometimes. I think a lot of it lies in our hearts and minds. I guess we need to recognize if what we are doing is a temp fix that leads to an effective long-term solution, or is everything a quick fix and potentially sloppy or fragile? Thanks for the comment.

  4. Michael – It’s exciting to see how our assigned readings are relating so well to your leadership roles this semester. Thank you for sharing your insights from this round of reading Friedman. Avoiding the “quick fix” is difficult, but perhaps it is the best way to allow space for God to move.

  5. Michael O'Neill says:

    Amen! God is certainly moving. I just pray I am moving in the direction that he is leading. Being present with him has been a game-changer for me. Walking with him instead of checking a box has unlocked the Spirit. I appreciate your comments and reminders to stay in the light with Him. Thank you.

  6. Alana Hayes says:

    WOW!!!! In your experience so far….How can creating safe spaces and avoiding ego barriers help leaders foster resilience and collaboration? Is there anything that you have noticed to watch out for as a pre-curser?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Alana. I’m new to these “safe spaces” and coaching in general but I really think it’s powerful to create space where people can open up. I know for me, I tend to open up more when I am in a group where I don’t know anyone. I went to a 2-day coaching session with Rob Bell in California this semester and it was like the safest place ever. I could talk about anything, open up, and take in feedback that was directly aimed at me instead of someone else’s agenda.

      Perhaps something to watch out for is the right vibe of the location, the people involved, and the freedom to speak with no judgment or agenda.

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