Failure-of-NerveI prepared this for a leadership call I did with some close friends in the Ecclesia Network. Many of us have found Edwin Friedman’s book, The Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Soft Cover / Kindle exceptionally helpful.  I’d say its one of the most influential books I’ve ever read on leadership. As I read it, I was confronted over and over again with habits and patterns for self-preservation that I’ve created for myself over good leadership.

Here is my short, executive summary of the book:

The Reality:

  • We live in chronically anxious society.
  • This society is oriented towards safety rather than adventure.
  • In this anxious society, resistance to leadership often has less to do with the “issue” that ensues than with the fact that the leader took initiative.

This anxiety can be dissipated by clear, decisive, well-defined leadership. 

The Problem:

  • We often leverage power to the extremists.
  • We often obsess about data over making a decision
  • Technique over stamina
  • Giving Empathy over calling for personal responsibility

The Results:

  • The most dependent members of our churches set the agendas and drive the institution rather than the most energetic, visionary imaginative and motivated.
    After all, our job is to make everyone happy, right? (sarcasm)
  • As leaders we tend to rely more on expertise of “experts” and better technique rather than our own ability to be decisive and leadership instincts.
    If we could just read one more missional leadership book and go to one more conference, we’d finally be successful!
  • Obsession with data and technique that allows us to spend all our time researching and never making decisions.
    FYI, no one should spend 6 weeks and three leadership meetings researching and making a decision about a water cooler. 
  • Leaders assume that we can convince our most toxic members through reasonableness, love, insight, role-modeling, striving for consensus.
    I’m so pastorally gifted that I can reason and love the most anxious and unhealthy people to perfect harmony. Right?

The Way Forward,

We Need Leaders Who:

  • Focus on their own integrity in the midst of crazies.
    Are you sure you’ve walked with integrity? 
  • Maintain a healthy, steady, non-anxious presence in the midst of the storms.
    We need more Tim Tebows!
  • Give more voice to the the healthy, creative, energetic, motivated voices.
    This isn’t a call to ignore the fringe!
  • Grow into becoming a well-differentiated leader
    No one does this easily, most leaders can improve their capacity.
  • Who can remain separate while still remaining connected.
    We aren’t emotionless and unattached. 
  • Able to manage own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others and take stands at the risk of displeasing.
    How do you respond when you piss people off  even when you make the right decision?