There once was a dreamer that dreamed a dream. This dream occurred several times over the years. Sometimes the setting varied, but there was always a common element. There was water present. At times this meant the setting was a coastal town and other times the water was something to be crossed. In either situation the dreamer was to be the one that gathered the people together to either rescue them or lead them to safety. Interestingly, the boat that carried them was not an ocean liner or even a ferry, but smaller by design, akin to rowboats. Instead of one boat, there were several.
What would Edwin Friedman say to the dreamer from his book, Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix?
The dreamer might begin by not overthinking the situation, such as “how did we get in this place to begin with” or become fixated on accumulating the most up-to-date information on boat building to prevent any possible disasters or challenges. This is an important area for the dreamer to attend to, as it is impossible to acquire all the information or data necessary to insure success or perhaps even eliminate the all risk of failure. There can be a subtle seduction to data information that leaves the dreamer feeling inadequate rather than confident. Not to mention that boat building data is probably not the area that needs all the focus. While boats will sink if there is a hole in the bottom of it, there are other intangibles that the dreamer will need to focus on. Slowly the dreamer is learning the truth of these words, “The data deluge can only be harnessed to the extent that leaders can recognize that not all information is worth gathering, and also to the extent they can develop criteria for discerning what information is important to leadership.”
Discernment is aimed in two directions; it is first aimed at the dreamer in their personal leadership as well as in the direction of the family system or institution of which one is a member. It will require the dreamer to be attentive and aware. “Leaders must not only develop vision, persistence, and stamina, but also understand that the problems they encounter may stem from their own unresolved issues, their organization’s past, sabotage in response to their effective leadership, or a combination of these factors.” In recent years the dreamer has taken time to know the story that has shaped life and relationships resulting in recognizing the dreamer’s story of struggle from a victim to one that stands upright is not yet finished. “The key to that positioning is the leader’s own self-differentiation, by which I mean his or her capacity to be a non-anxious presence, a challenging presence, a well-defined presence, and a paradoxical presence.”
The dreamer has been one that has thought in more linear terms, or perhaps more accurately, the dreamer was taught to think that is how the world works and how one should approach life’s problems. Slowly but with increasing pace over the past few years the dreamer has come to realize that trying harder to receive and maintain the approval of others does nothing except to wear one out. This has been a journey into the inner life by looking at the affect of shame. Significant is the recognition of how fear of failure has plagued the dreamer, as it has plagued others.
There are times when the dreamer looks to find new answers to old problems, but there is also a growing capability to ask new questions. This means that rather than avoid risk, new possibilities are considered. Rather than just bring new innovations to old problems (like church attendance, church involvement or bringing people to Christ) we need to reframe the questions we are asking. This might challenge the recycled church plants or programs that seem to be cooler, hipper versions of the attractional church (not always mind you, but more often than not). This is not an easy path. Friedman reminds us that we desire a quick fix, whether it is at the doctor’s office, for family problems or national politics, economics practices or (especially) the Christian church.
If anything makes the dreamer look in the mirror it is the challenge of a failure of nerve. The dreamer has gained insight by learning about and from psychological assessments. Looking into the mirror has helped the dreamer to see personal tendencies and what they are rooted in. When a failure of nerve is creeping in, it most likely means that one or more of these areas is being neglected: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and practices. Not wanting conflict or resistance the dreamer is learning to expect both. Learning to lead when there is conflict without throwing someone under the bus, investing in developing individual strength rather than manipulation are intentions that will no doubt be tested. Sabotage will happen, some will not want to change or put out the effort, they may want the status quo, but the dreamer is aware that sometimes the sabotage comes because one has not been listened to, the pace exceeds their endurance and that as shepherds we cannot judge too quickly (or at all). Perhaps the one thing that Columbus did right was recognize that he needed to sail on and released control, allowing those on the Pinta to figure out if that rudder would be fixed or not. Columbus set the agenda, he was determined to continue, it was up to the others to make up their mind.
There is an undeterred determination in a non-anxious leader. What impact would there have been on the disciples, let alone us if Jesus had chosen a less determined path? How would we have learned what the kingdom of God was all about? “To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go.” What direction is the boat headed? In the dreamer’s dream the boat is going north. What does that mean? Is this somehow relevant, “Life has evolved not in terms of the ways the past has an impact on the present, but in terms of the ways the past is present in the present.”
The dreamer yearns to be a well-defined leader. Such a leader, according to Friedman, is self-differentiated, a leadership characteristic that “is most likely to promote the kind of community that preserves the self of its members.” Perhaps it is not safety that the dreamer will provide; perhaps something else will be cultivated and preserved. I wonder what the dreamer will dream tonight.
 Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, NY: Seabury Books), 2007, 97. Full quote: “What I am driving at is this: As long as leaders—parents, healers, managers—base their confidence on how much data they have acquired, they are doomed to feeling inadequate, forever.”
 Ibid., 28.
 Ibid., 230.
 Ibid., 35. Friedman refers to our efforts to try hard to avoid failure and to try harder when failure results. Jeff VanVonderan in his book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up: Getting Free From the Demands, Expectations, and Intimidation of Well-Meaning People (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2008), 117 describes our efforts as cycles of trying harder, giving up and hopefully cycling into “rest.”
 Friedman, 37.
 Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 163.
 Ibid., 191-192.