Review: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin H. Friedman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful about leadership.

This is not a Christian book. It is heavily evolutionary and psychological, but still abounds in wisdom.

Thesis: “The thinking processes that produce a failure of nerve and a quick-fix mentality in contemporary America are the result of a decline in maturity in an anxiously regressed society.”

Leadership is as much emotional as cognitive. It’s keeping your head when others are losing theirs, in Kipling’s phrase. Anxious people naturally sabotage and attack mature leaders, wanting others to join in their anxiety. The solution is for the leader (parent, pastor or president) not to try to FIX the anxious, but to remain calm and mature themselves; not to join the hysteria, but not to detach from it or react against it, either.

Barriers to leadership include (1) being captured by conventional thinking, like cartographers before Columbus, (2) social anxiety shown in blaming, herding, reacting, and craving a quick fix, (3) obsession with data that prevents decisiveness, (4) empathizing with anxious or dysfunctional followers more than taking responsibility as a leader (understanding your people to the detriment of understanding your role as leader), (5) narcissistic or autocratic selfishness instead of a self-integrity that maintains one’s mature sense of self among anxious others (not rejecting or functioning for them).

Leadership is about emotional process as much as about ideas. Some of this is very controversial. Leaders need to focus on themselves (anxiety, responsibilities) more than on their followers! Empathy is often a power tool of the dysfunctional and irresponsible. The unmotivated don’t change by hand-holding and giving them insight. Some of this is very common sense: keep calm and be mature (his word is self-differentiated). A leader has to know where his being and responsibility stops and the group’s begins. You can’t function for the group, but neither can you disconnect from the group. Staying mature yourself and connected to the anxious group will change the group, more than trying harder to empathize, give insight, or just work harder. It's not so much about saying the right thing, but being the right person with others.

I'd recommend this for any leader: parents and pastors and workplace supervisors especially.

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