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

What Are You Going to Do About It?

Written by: on February 22, 2024

Reading A Failure of Nerve felt like crossing a threshold. It feels for some time I have been trying to find the best paths to navigate the anxieties that go hand in hand with life. A Failure of Nerve provided me that “Aha!” I couldn’t help but nod when reading the brief interaction between Steinke and Friedman in the book’s foreword. I was struck by Friedman’s reply to Steinke upon hearing his lament. Friedman responded to Steinke, “It looks like you helped to form this system. What are you going to do about it?” [1] Initially, this question seems insensitive and harsh, but I believe it holds much power. Steinke writes concerning his answer to Friedman’s question, “I was not a victim, incompetent, or a helpless person. If anything, I had been a ‘co-conspirator’ in my own family process of dousing pain.” [2] Upon reading Steinke’s conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of the many times I have remained a victim “stuck” in the anxiety of work, life, and relationships. My “Aha! ” from Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve is that despite our anxious society, we can position ourselves to stay connected and present, without being destroyed by those seeking to sabotage. However, it takes courage to ask ourselves the question, “What are you going to do about it?”

So, what are you going to do about it? To best answer this question, in full agreement with Friedman, I believe an individual must be well-differentiated. [3] Friedman writes, “Differentiation is not about being coercive, manipulative, reactive, pursuing, or invasive; it is about being rooted in the leader’s own sense of self rather than focused on his or her followers.” [4] The idea of being well-differentiated requires us to look in the mirror. It begins with us. It requires clarity. When referring to the well-differentiated leader Friedman writes, “I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about.” [5] Gaining clarity requires intentionality. Camacho writes in Mining for Gold, “Clarity brings momentum to our efforts. With clarity, we come alive in his [God’s] love and that love begins to flow through us. We are moving from existing to thriving.” [6] This is an area where I am still growing. I feel this DLGP program will give me a “Doctorate in Elysse” as well as a Doctorate in Leadership.

Discovering a sense of self can be an uncomfortable process, as we sift through the “yuck” to discover what is valuable. It’s even harder to find the courage to release unhealthy behaviors that sabotage us. Last year, during a casual conversation with a friend discussing her journey with OCD tendencies, I realized, “I have this too!” I found this realization to be somewhat liberating because my often-paralyzing obsessive thoughts now made sense (Note: I am not diagnosed OCD, but I have recognized symptoms in myself). With this new knowledge, I had to ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Ultimately, this discovery led to the reshaping of some unhealthy work-life habits I often tried to push through, but often left me a depleted mess. Friedman writes, “…don’t let crisis become the axis around which your world revolves.” [7] Understanding my tendencies towards often-paralyzing obsessive thoughts under stressful situations has helped me position myself in the “A” position— the apex of the triangle. [8] I have control over my response in the triangle.

Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve expresses ideas I’ve been feeling for some time about the anxious, reactive world we live in. When thinking of Friedman’s ideas, I immediately get the mental image of traffic in Africa. It is insanity and drivers easily get stuck in the chaos resulting in no movement and a lot of road rage. I have learned to position myself to best weave my way through the traffic. I am present, but I am not triangled into the madness. This is much like Friedman’s point of “Management of Self:” the effort to remain clear, the management of my own anxiety, the effort to remain out of triangles, the determination to be responsible and decisive.” [9] This is essential to being a well-differentiated leader… and a well-differentiated driver in Africa. I desire to be both. Therefore, I ask myself, “What are you going to do about it?”


[1] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (10th Anniversary, Revised Edition) (p. 8). Church Publishing Incorporated. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] A well-differentiated leader is someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional process swirling about it.

[4] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve. (p. 311). Kindle Edition.

[5] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (p. 35). Kindle Edition.

[6] Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching (p. 55). IVP. Kindle Edition

[7] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (p. 329). Kindle Edition.

[8] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (p. 324). Kindle Edition.

[9] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve (p. 327). Kindle Edition.

About the Author

Elysse Burns

18 responses to “What Are You Going to Do About It?”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    Thanks for sharing a thoughtful post Elysse. I am curious if anything from Friedman will make its way into your NPO.

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Diane, this is an interesting thought. I never really considered it. I recently was given a very cool opportunity to connect with the community. However, these interactions can prove to be chaotic from time to time, but I tend to overlook these things that I wouldn’t accept in western situations. This is usually just for the sake of connecting. I want to take to heart Friedman’s insight and position myself well in my “triangles.” I need to be careful not to spread myself too thin with eagerness to “connect” and get caught in the chaos. Friedman gives good thoughts to remember as I continue to work through my NPO.

  2. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hi Elysse! Great post, Its awesome to see people make hard changes in order to be healthy again. We all need to ask ourselves what are you gonna do about this?” I think we would all lead healthier lives if we practiced that. I liked your traffic analogy. That would make me a nervous wreck. What else do you do for yourself to help calm the anxiety in your life?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Chris, I believe we might have similar methods to remaining calm in the madness. I do a lot of journaling, even if its just fragmented thoughts. I also try to spend 10-15 minutes each morning in silence to hear from God. This helps ground me before the day starts. And a little chocolate does wonders to calm the nerves.

  3. Adam Cheney says:

    Ah, the traffic of an African city. So familiar. So much anxiety. I remember when I finally released the stress of it and just enjoyed it like a game of Frogger. (Note, I did not always win. I lost to a bus and a Tuktuk).
    I do agree with you that we are going to learn much about ourselves in this program and come out with a doctor of Elysse, or Adam in my case. Where have you seen your biggest growth so far this year?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Adam, if you know any video game developers, I would love to create a video game where the player has to run errands in an African city. Goal of level one: pay electricity bill while maneuvering around donkey carts and tuk-tuks.

      Concerning an area of growth, I am finding healthier ways to help myself reframe difficult situations or insecurities I might be feeling. There was once a time I would go into a tailspin and stay there for weeks (i.e. angry at the world). I think feeling a stronger sense of agency has really helped me to realize I can do something about the way I feel. I don’t have to just sit in it.

  4. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Elysse,

    Thanks for your post. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the reading this week and were able to cross the threshold of understanding. I’m still working on that – I can tell the concepts could be liberating and life changing, but somehow, I haven’t been able to internalize it yet.

    I love the idea of asking ‘so what are you going to do about it?’ over victimhood. But for some reason, it feels hard to ask this question to people – maybe because it puts them on the spot, and demands that they step up. Why do you think this question seem so harsh?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Christy, this is just a theory, but I think asking the question (“What are you going to do about it?”) seems harsh because people are prone to responding from a victim mentality. I include myself in this!

  5. Nancy Blackman says:

    Your first paragraph reminded me of a conversation I had with a dear friend yesterday. She is in a new role and taking on alot of new work. As she is managing work and life, she asked a mentor how they managed. The mentor responded with, “you have to set hard boundaries.”

    I find that the over anxious society is because people are setting hard boundaries. They don’t allow themselves time to rest and be. There is not enough built-in quiet time, off-screen time, and leaning into things that are more life-giving.

    I wonder … as you continue to navigate your uncomfortable process how much beauty you will unearth within you. Maybe there are things about you that you haven’t even discovered.

    And, like you, I have spoken to other neurodivergent people and realized I have some of those characteristics as well, but then I stop and realize that God knew that when I was shaped and formed. So, what do I do with that? Or, as you most aptly ask, what are you going to do about it?

    We are not all the same, and yet we are better together.

    As you think about your ministry context and your process of unearthing the beauty within you, what are some things you can lean into to help guide you?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Nancy, this is a good question! I have done myself a disservice in not pushing into what is beautiful (inside me and around me). I have a creative side that has been stifled for years. I am on a journey to rediscovering this part of myself. I became a little bit of an administrative robot. Friedman talked a lot about data and the ways it is not always the best answer. I agree with him. I desire to be an authentic, creative leader who gives people space to experience the same in themselves. I’m not sure this answers your question very well? I can’t tell you how appreciative I am for you and how you introduced me to Makoto Fujimura in a past post. His work is amazing and “hits” a part of me that I have buried for some time.

  6. Erica Briggs says:

    There were so many thoughts you shared that resonated with me in this post. Looking in the mirror does take courage. As someone who is super aware of “what’s wrong” with me, it is challenging to see what’s right – harder still to love and appreciate and cozy up to what’s going right because it feels like my energy would be better served towards fixing what’s wrong. Have you found a way that helps you stay in position with yourself, connected and present with all parts of yourself? Please share!

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Erica, about three years ago I was introduced to prayer journaling. When I am feeling “dark” or obsessive about perceived weaknesses, I write these things down and allow the Lord to speak into them. This has been very life-giving to me. It helps me get out of my own head.

      Another thing I have done is to write thank you notes. I have recognized when I become obsessive it becomes very me-focused and I lack gratitude.

      These are just simple things that shift my thinking.

  7. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Elysse,
    Thank you for your post. I enjoyed reading it.
    How did reading A Failure of Nerve feel like crossing a threshold for you, and how has it impacted your understanding of anxiety in life?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Shela, thank you for your kind words. A Failure of Nerve was like crossing a threshold because it reaffirmed the agency we have as leaders to do something about the chaos. We don’t have to sit in it. We are not victims. I can forget this at times.

  8. Debbie Owen says:

    Elysse, thank you for this post. I wonder, what does it mean for you to be “rooted in the leader’s own sense of self”? It seems like a pretty vague term (from Friedman), so how do you view it in your circumstances?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Debbie, when I think of Friedman’s idea of “being rooted in a sense of self” I automatically think of Tom Camacho’s Mining for Gold and operating in our sweet spot. I am not there, but I am on my way! I believe when we are confident in our unique God-given design, everything flows from that. It gives us a security and we can persevere even in the midst of sabotage. I am still growing in this area!

  9. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Yes, yes, yes, I love this all! Glad it was a crossing of a threshold for you; I, too, had some great “Aha” moments. You named that a guiding question for you is to ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

    I’ve found this question to actually be a really challenging one for many of the leaders with whom I coach because sometimes they feel stumped and don’t have an answer, or the answer they think of feels overwhelming. Have you ever experienced this, and if so, how do you navigate it, or how would you advise someone else struggling to take action?

    • Elysse Burns says:

      Akwése, I used to get very angry when people posed this question to me. I would shut down the conversation. However, after much growth and refining, I view this question as a gift. It means I have the agency to do something even if it is something very small. However, I do believe it feels like an impossible question to answer when we aren’t ready.

      I had to navigate through this question today. I made about a two-month commitment to something that turned out to be very unpleasant the first day (today). I found myself defaulting to a victim mentality about it. I had to quickly adjust my perspective and ask myself, “What can I do to make this a more pleasant experience for myself and others?” The solutions were very small, but I believe they will help me maintain sanity and enjoy the process.

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