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

4.35 of 5 stars 4.35  ·  rating details  ·  278 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Ten years after his death, Edwin Friedman's insights into leadership are more urgently needed than ever. He was the first to tell us that all organizations have personalities, like families, and to apply the insights of family therapy to churches and synagogues, rectors and rabbis, politicians and teachers. Failure of Nerve is essential reading for all leaders, be they par...more
Paperback, 260 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Seabury Books
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Douglas Wilson
This was a fantastic book on leadership. You have to wade through some evolutionary hooey, but if you make the necessary adjustments, the central points are simply strengthened. This is a truly contrarian view of leadership that is wise -- as opposed to simply being mule-headed.
Jenny Karraker
Jul 16, 2012 Jenny Karraker is currently reading it

This was a hard book to read bc it included a lot of technical jargon and hair-splitting of terms and ideas that was difficult to follow. But the main point seems to be that in order to be a strong leader, you don't need to know every program, be able to motivate others, or use whatever the latest technique is--but instead you need to become a healthy person emotionally. This means that you are differentiated from others-- you are able to maintain your own boundaries and be your own person whil...more
Sean Higgins
One of the most compelling and clarifying books I've read in a long time. Though I wouldn't use the Friedman's vocabulary, agree with his evolutionary presumptions, or have anywhere near his positivity apart from the gospel, I'd still say the Rabbi asks great questions that every leader (husband, father, pastor, boss, president, etc.) should consider.


Read again and discussed with the TEC elders through 2013. Fantastic material for a leadership team, as long as that team already has a stro...more
This is my go-to book for growing a backbone and beating back anxiety. I use it weekly as a touchstone for my own health and integrity.
Everything you think you know about leadership is wrong. A leader is not one who knows how to develop vision. A leader is not someone who can team-build. A leader is not the guy with expertise. A leader is not the guy with the best personality.

Friedman teaches that a good leader can lack all of those things. All of them. Friedman teaches that a truly good leader is a person who can self-differantiate and maintain a non-anxious, non-reactive presence. The book unpacks what those principles are al...more
April Yamasaki
I had read Friedman's Generation to Generation sometime ago and was interested in this follow up book that applies his systems thinking to leadership, anxiety, and stress. Does his systems approach really apply across different cultures, different kinds of organizations, to different times of history, across gender lines, and other distinctions as he insists? I'm still thinking about that, but I do appreciate his view of leadership as non-anxious presence, the importance of attending to the emot...more
This is my go to book on leadership and accountability.it should be on every leaders shelf.
Elf M.
Edwin Friedman's last book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, is a highly frustrating read. He has a very good idea, wrapped in an unfortunate analogy that has metastasized into its own Idea. Friedman's core idea, the very good idea, is this:
When I fail to distinguish "who I am" from the organizations to which I belong, then I begin to identify more with the organization than I do with my own principles and goals. As a consequence, I lose the capacity to challenge the w
Garland Vance
This is one of the best books on personal leadership that I have ever read. Edwin Friedman does not write as a pastor or even as a business leader. Before his death, he was an academician, and this book was uncompleted when he died. His family and friends, however, believed it to be vital to publish the unfinished work, and I, personally, am so glad that they did.

Friedman argues that the influx of information and the perceived need for empathy can actually cripple leaders and prevent them from m...more
Outstanding. The ideas in this book are so groundbreaking they make other books on the subject of leadership seem like pages of dryer lint. While the writing is information-dense and occasionally difficult to follow due to style, the sparkling “aha!” moments are worth following the author through every chapter. Friedman's book neatly outlines the anatomy of leadership from the inside out. I think it's absolutely essential for anyone in a leadership position.

As I compare my personal leadership ex...more
The basic premise of this book is that the most important thing for a leader to do is to know themselves and have boundaries. No amount of information or rightness of technique can make someone lead a family or an organization better if they don't really know who they are.

When thinking about this book in terms of individuals, I didn't find much that I hadn't already read elsewhere (the Cloud/Townsend Boundaries books, or in Harriet Lerner's books about relationships)..but I found it quite eye-op...more
I've just started this little gem...and it's already making a huge difference in my life. Should be required reading of every leader - political, business, religious, social org. And perhaps if it had been well read when it was published in 1999 - after the author's sudden death in 1996 - we might not have had 8 years of George Bush.

I've finished it now. Had to take a break as the book was so transforming for me. I look at leadership in a completely different way now. I question the need for "m...more
If you want to understand why it is so hard to accomplish positive things these days, read this book now, and I mean RIGHT NOW. Hands down, this is the best book written about leadership and the problems leadership will continue to face in modern societies. Not only does it explain in detail the atmosphere we work and live in now, but brilliantly explains how to break the destructive societal patterns we face. And let me be clear: it is not easy to read because you will recognize your own part i...more
Quite simply, this is one of my favorite all-time books in any discipline. Very useful for pastors, but also a necessary read for anyone in leadership. This marks the final and culminating work in Edwin Friedman's career. Here he takes his astounding insights into family systems (seen in Generation to Generation and Friedman's Fables) and applies it to leadership. Quite simply, he rewrites the book on leadership, especially in the caregiving professions where, all too often, empathy wins out ove...more
Immensely valuable insight presented with leaps and jumps that were hard to follow and clunky, even as they were fascinating and had a aura of newly seen truths. Conclusions are presented at times with presuppositions and evidence not in evidence. This made it feel sometimes like the starting point was the justification of the type of leadership demonstrated by political leaders from one side of the spectrum, which was distasteful. To my worldview the latter part of the book would have worked be...more
This is bar non the best book on leadership I have ever read. It uses family systems therapy (Bowen), to look at why systems get gridlocked and how to move out of gridlock...and that is just the beginning. Excellent. Great book for pastors.
This is a posthumous publication, assembled from some of the writings of Edwin Friedman, still unpublished at the time of his death. As the book's title and subtitle attest, he meant it to address "the twin problems confronting leadership in our society: the failure of nerve and the desire for a quick fix" (p. 163).

This is the same rabbi, organizational consultant and family therapist who wrote prolifically throughout his life and published several other works (including Friedman's Fables). In o...more
In this book Friedman talks about leaders having the courage to make a change, but then experiencing a “failure of nerve” when the change prompts resistance and conflict and leaders return to the failed practices of the past. "A leader can never assume success because he or she has brought about a change. It is only after having first brought about a change and then subsequently refrained from changing back in order to calm down the resulting reactivity that the leader can feel truly successful....more
Friedman applies Family Systems Theory to leadership, focusing particular on the adventurous spirit that characterized the great adventurers of Age of Discovery (Columbus, Magellan, etc). He makes the case that well defined leaders (those who have "self-differentiated," can remain calm in the midst of anxiety, and remain in relationship with others despite conflict) are the key to change and transformation of systems, organizations, and families.

This is a posthumous work of Dr. Edwin Friedman. I...more
Sunshine Jeremiah
This is one of those "we teach best what we most need to learn" texts. If you can get past all that Friedman ignores in order to make his point, then you can find some really GREAT information on systems theory and practice. It may help to read the section on "Self Differentiation" on page 183 before beginning the book. It is a term used quite a lot and not defined until page 183.

Also, it is important to note that this book was not finished by the author as he passed away before it's completion....more
Matthew Corbitt
Best leadership book I have read.
Seth Pierce
This is the best book I have ever read on leadership--despite some choppy illustrations. I did find myself skimming a few parts because the author was a tad verbose. However the content is incredible. Friedman suggests leadership is more about emotional processes than charisma or data consumption. He discusses relationship "triangles" and demonstrates how social systems respond to leaders.

Whether you are the head of a family, church, or business you will benefit from the insights shared here.

This is a stand-out leadership book. I took my time with this one, re-visiting parts over a couple months as many things applied to multiple circumstances. Friedman's insights about imaginative gridlock, regression, data junkies and "expertise", crippling faux-empathy, emotional triangles and sabotage are equally relevant in marriages and executive boards. At at time when people think being offended is a virtue and emotional manipulation is a common tactic, this book is mighty refreshing.
I am just finishing this book. It is life changing. Some very simply take aways have changed my outlook on many relationships and attitudes. Be the nonanxious person in the anxious situation. A healthy organism mobilizes resources, transforms itself, and changes the toxicity of the environment in response to stress or crisis. A good leader is emotionally distant from the problems in the system so they can move toward strength.

Just a wonderful book about how to effect change.
Gregg Koskela
In the top ten of the books that have most impacted my life. I read Friedman's "Generation to Generation" in seminary, which has many of the same ideas. Failure of Nerve communicates them more clearly, but the ideas have been shaping me for a long time.
I liked Friedman's book for sure but the fact that it is an unfinished manuscript definitely takes its toll. In last two chapters this unfinished quality is most frustrating. I felt that the book was very helpful for me as a leader as a whole, but I feel like this book is one of those that you need to read with other people to have the benefit of discussion to flesh out some of his points. I hope someone else builds on what Friedman has written.
This book is revolutionary in how it approaches leadership, and given how I've failed to lead as Friedman's described it in the past, and given how past leadership endeavors have been anything but healthy for me, I'm looking forward to implementing his ideas in my own life.

That being said, his thoughts on empathy rubbed me the wrong way, largely because of the role empathy has played in helping me overcome my own shame and embrace a different life.
Jeremy John
What an amazing book. Now I know why all the systems I've been a part of have failed and what I can do about it, if I but have the strength of character. Reassuring to finally understand.

Now I understand why anxiety is crippling everything. God, it makes my stomach knot up.

Fortunately, this book contains the key to changing ones own small corner of reality.

No, I was not paid by the publisher.
Excellent text on leading through anxiety. Incredibly applicable to me and our leaders. Unfortunately, the book is front-heavy--the second half, though it has some gems, is a summary of Friedman's writing and not his actual form since he died before the came out.
Some pretty amazing insights in this book. I like the author's bold style, not a lot of hedging of his bets or ambivalence. The middle section gets a little slow and redundant. As a Christian a found his evolutionary bent somewhat annoying, but I guess you have to separate wheat from chaff.

Really, a must read for any kind of leader, from "president to parent," as my new buddy Ed would put it.
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“The great lesson here for all imaginatively gridlocked systems is that the acceptance and even cherishing of uncertainty is critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” 0 likes
“The second attribute of imaginatively gridlocked relationship systems is a continual search for new answers to old questions rather than an effort to reframe the questions themselves. In the search for the solution to any problem, questions are always more important than answers because the way one frames the question, or the problem, already predetermines the range of answers one can conceive in response. The critical difference between” 0 likes
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