Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

I learned of the book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman, from one of the blogs I read regularly. The blogger's recommendation was so strong, I made it one of the few new books I've bought this year.

Friedman, who draws on experience as a rabbi, organizational consultant, family therapist, and community relations specialist, looks at leadership as an emotional process, describes the dynamics that sabotage or paralyze leaders, and prescribes a solution: what he calls "well-differentiated leaders."

Weaving most of the book around Christopher Columbus and others whose leadership changed the course of European and world history, Friedman identifies four dynamics that are at the heart of the problem in contemporary America's view of leadership:
Regression, a trend in which "the most dependent members of an organization set the agendas, where adaptation is constantly toward weakness rather than strength, thus leveraging power to the recalcitrant, the passive-aggressive, and the most anxious members of an institution, rather than toward the energetic, the visionary, the imaginative, and the motivated."

Individuation, or rather the devaluation of it, "so that leaders tend to rely more on expertise than on their own capacity to be decisive."

Information, particularly an obsession with data and technique, prompting leaders to deny the realities of emotional processes in their organizations as contributors to decision-making, becoming obsessed instead with information-seeking and gathering endless data in the expectation that more information=better decisions.

Ignorance of "the relational nature of destructive processes" in organizations. This ignorance prompts leaders to assume "that toxic forces can be regulated through reasonableness, love, insight, role-modeling, inculcation of values, and striving for consensus. It prevents them from taking the kind of stands that set limits to the invasiveness of those who lack self-regulation."
What this situation calls for, Friedman argues, is a "well-differentiated leader"--that is, "someone who has clarity about his or her life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about....who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence....who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing."

While far from the most riveting book I've read this year, Friedman's perspective is refreshing and stimulating. It is especially crucial reading for pastors, who probably as much or more than any leaders as a group, tend to reflect all four of those dynamics in our leadership. And, while I could wish that a rabbi would have drawn at least occasional parallels to Moses and Samuel and Nathan and other Biblical examples, those standards are at times easy to see in his portrait of a well-differentiated leader.

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