I am grateful for GPS. It gives me turn-by-turn directions, but it also gives me an estimated time of arrival. I can even let my GPS know when I need to arrive at a destination, and I will be notified when I need to leave. Since I live in an urban area that is under constant construction, this feature is especially helpful. I like to know when I will be arriving at my destination. I often wish leadership came equipped with a GPS.
In Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman, a long-time rabbi, family therapist, organizational leader, and public servant, describes a fundamental flaw in leadership. According to Friedman, leaders do not fail because they lack information or skill, but because they lack the nerve to stand firm in the midst of other people’s emotional anxiety and reactions. He explains that every family and every organization has an emotional environment. Effective leadership has less to do with technique and more to do with the ability to navigate this emotional and relational landscape. The leader who does this well is referred to as a “differentiated leader.”
Friedman goes on to discuss the anxiety that plagues today’s American family. He says this is manifested in five regressive characteristics: reactivity, herding, blame displacement, quick-fix mentality, and failure of nerve in leadership. He explains that these regressions are not only present in family systems, but also in organizational systems. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the leader to be the strength in the system, a sure presence in the midst of chaos. Similar to gravitational fields, families and organizations have “emotional fields.” The self-differentiated leader has a positive effect on this field, calming anxiety with their steady presence. According to Friedman, “what counts is the leader’s presence and being, not technique and know-how.”
Friedman’s is a similar message to many of our presenters during the London/Oxford Advance. It seems he would assert that one of the most valuable contributions the ministry leader can make is what we would describe as “ministry of presence.” The posture and orientation we have toward others could be the greatest indicator of our influence. The strength of our soul and our ability to rest securely in our identity apart from the institutions and people we serve, keep us from the trappings of constant striving. Friedman says,
“People cannot hear you unless they are moving toward you, which means that as long as you are in a pursuing or rescuing position, your message will never catch up, no matter how eloquently or repeatedly you articulate your ideas.”
As Christian leaders, we stand in Christ. We are able to calm the pull of the anxious emotional fields and call those we lead to move deeper into life in the Spirit (a creative force field in itself). What an exchange!
Unlike the ETA provided by my GPS, I am not sure that any of us arrive at differentiated leadership. Rather, it seems to be a journey we commit to. This can be frustrating as one who likes to know the end from the beginning. However, I am confident in the promise of Philippians 1:6, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
 Bob Thune, “Summary: Edwin Friedman’s “A Failure of Nerve” in 500 Words,” June 6, 2016, http://www.bobthune.com/2016/06/summary-edwin-friedmans-a-failure-of-nerve-in-500-words/.
 Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, ed. Margaret M. Treadwell and Edward W. Beal (New York: Seabury Books, 2007).
 Ibid, 61.
 Ibid, 17.