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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Soap Box

Written by: on October 13, 2016

Summary:
Edwin H. Friedman’s book: A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, is a challenging read on the subject of contemporary leadership based on timeless truths. Friedman takes his book’s title from Five Stages of Greek Religion by Gilbert Murray, wherein a chapter entitled “A Failure of Nerve,” he states: “the mind that has not rained itself to the hare disciple in of reasonableness and honesty, will, as soon as its devils are cast out, proceed to fill itself with their relations.” (Friedman, 1) Friedman compels us as leaders to be “clear, decisive, and well-defined” and not given to anxiety driven empathy, data dumps, and easy techniques. He insists that true leadership is about the strength of the individual, self-differentiating, adventurous leader and not a one size fits all approach that pacifies the masses. The essence of Friedman’s leader described is one that operates with incarnational presence.

Analysis:
Friedman’s writing really resonated with me. I have shared it with several leading influences in my life this week and will share it next with with denominational leaders at a private meeting. I really believe Friedman is correct and that we are blinded due to the very weakness and lack of strength that he communicates. This blog will be very “editorial” and opinionated because I really “feel” emotional resonance with the contents of this book.

What stands out to me is the “tension” (Friedman, 246) or resistance that is “part and parcel” of Friedman’s process of leadership. He walks out the various tensions of: strength and weakness; individual and the whole; emotional and cognitive. I found this read very timely in American history and politics with the upcoming Presidential election. I agree with Friedman’s described “American rut”, I do not know anyone who could reasonably argue otherwise. I agree that the “way out, requires a shifting of our orientation.” (Friedman, 3)

We, as America, are at a crossroads that is not about morality or even spirituality, that is only one of many symptoms, but about a vacuum of leadership. We know longer value: the “individual” but the “heard”; the need for everybody’s opinion have equal value has diluted all opinions and ideas; we are in a constant state of paralysis due to “data junkyards and data junkies”; and we are in a state of leadership regression and gridlock while technologically and digitally we are seemingly flourishing. Our abundance and knowledge have blinded us to an impeding doom if we do not evaluate.

Friedman gives five statements and characteristics of a leader who will bring about real change:
“A capacity to get outside the emotional climate of the day; a willingness to be exposed and vulnerable; persistence in the face of resistance and rejection; stamina in the face of sabotage; being “headstrong” and “ruthless” in the eyes of others.” (Friedman, 188-189) I believe the absence of the above has produced a platform for third party politicians (Bernie Sanders), extreme political views (tea party), biased media (CNN, Fox News, etc), and polarizing and undesirable candidates (Trump and Clinton). I believe that “all the above” is answered by implementing leadership that Friedman prescribes. We as well as our government are “gridlocked” due to the lack of present mentality (treadmill of trying harder; answers rather that questions, either/or thinking). We must at least challenge the emotional sets that values data over decision, feeling over action, group over self. This is not a play it safe book, but neither is leadership.

About the Author

Aaron Cole

9 responses to “Soap Box”

  1. Aaron,

    Great blog. What a synthesis of this information. How often do you have to lead with decision, action and self as your guide? When you do lead in this way does it go against your culture or is that the culture that you have built in Wisconsin? I know it has affected our nation but what about in the church that you pastor? Can there be an exception because of the “presence” of the leader and leadership??

    I will be using this book as a coaching tool!!! I resonate with it as well. I have lived some parts of it and now I have a language to describe it with.

    God Bless

    Kevin

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Kevin,

      I think I lead fairly decisively and because of my tenure I am not in conflict with my culture. I find presesence of leadership and leader to be one and the same.

      Aaron

  2. Wow Aaron! This is some of your best thinking and writing. Thanks.
    You do a great job summarizing the book in our given political context. How do we as pastors rise above the current emotional climate? of our country? churches? even our families? These are serious questions because I find it so challenging to do so.

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Aaron,
    Thanks for a great analysis of Friedman’s work in this book and your application and contextualization of it to our present American crises. I especially like your characterization of the type of leader Friedman espouses as “one that operates with incarnational presence.” That says it all!
    Do you see a “failure of nerve” and a “quick fix” mentality as being the essence of the vacuum in decisive leadership in America? And do you see a correlation between this vacuum in leadership with the erosion of the moral fiber of our nation? What if anything might be the role of the church to rectify or ameliorate this dilemma?

  4. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron C,
    A very interesting blog, it seems there are some validity to this statement,” We know longer value: the “individual” but the “heard”; the need for everybody’s opinion have equal value has diluted all opinions and ideas; we are in a constant state of paralysis due to “data junkyards and data junkies”; and we are in a state of leadership regression and gridlock while technologically and digitally we are seemingly flourishing”.
    But, we must view the social aspect, how, the power of the unaided individual mind is highly overrated. Much human creativity is social, arising from activities that take place in a social context in which interaction with other people and the artifacts that embody collective knowledge are essential contributors.
    Therefore,”Social” creativity does not necessitate the development of environments in which the interests of the many inevitably supersede those of the individual. Individuality makes a difference, and organizations get their strength to a large extent from the creativity and engagement of their individual members. The appropriate socio-technical settings, at the same time, can amplify the outcome of a group of creative people by both augmenting individual creativities and multiplying rather than simply summing up individual creativities (Fischer et al., 2005). These are just some thoughts on the matter.
    Great Job! I thought you did an excellent job explaining your points in the blog. Thanks Rose Maria

  5. Jason Kennedy says:

    AC,

    I love this quote.
    We, as America, are at a crossroads that is not about morality or even spirituality, that is only one of many symptoms, but about a vacuum of leadership. We know longer value: the “individual” but the “heard”; the need for everybody’s opinion have equal value has diluted all opinions and ideas; we are in a constant state of paralysis due to “data junkyards and data junkies”; and we are in a state of leadership regression and gridlock while technologically and digitally we are seemingly flourishing. Our abundance and knowledge have blinded us to an impeding doom if we do not evaluate.

    Do you think we can “get it back.” Or does society no longer care about a leader’s morality?

    Jason

  6. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Aaron:

    Great post. I felt this book was definitely going to wind up in your bibliography on your dissertation. His data dump was an interesting spin. How do you process numbers and data? They either make my Mondays or destroy them.

    With your passive spirit (tongue in cheek) how do you “personalize” in ministry when you have to be headstrong and ruthless?

    Phil

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