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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

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  400 ratings  ·  76 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
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
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.
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
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
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
Peter N.
An excellent book on leadership and the forces that try to sabotage it. I would have given it five stars except his terms are unnecessarily odd and hard to wade through. He could have been clearer. Also he uses too much evolutionary theory to back up his thesis. But if you can translate his ideas into the language of Scripture then it will work. For example, he uses the term "self-regulate." For Christians this is the Biblical idea of "self-control."

As you read this book your eyes will open to
John Curtis
At the advice of a friend, I just finished reading Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve - Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix . It’s not an easy read, but one very worth the investment, particularly if you are in leadership in any capacity.

The premise of the book is the very observable phenomenon of the anxiety of the most dysfunctional members of any family or organization being allowed not just to influence but to rule. This has grown into a world-view and Friedman attacks it – as the prevaili
Steve Hemmeke
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 leader
This is my go to book on leadership and should be on every leaders shelf.
Tim Kimberley
An eye opening leadership book. It takes a look at leadership in ways I've never considered. The author connects a lot of leadership with the biological world. I've never considered many of his thoughts. It's worth your time to read just to let him stretch your head. So much of the book shows how our culture is filled with anxiety and how a good leader needs to slice through much of this anxiety. I gave the book 4 stars because it's a pretty tough read and hard to figure out exactly what to do w ...more
Tim McIntosh
I work at a great-books college in Oregon and, thus, must read a lot of books. Failure of Nerve (along with Norms & Nobility by David Hicks) are among the best books I've read in the last ten years.

Edwin Friedman's work as a psychologist took him everywhere — board rooms of businesses, armed forces, monasteries, families, and synagogues. He said that as a younger man, he tried to bring resolution to dysfunctional families through improved communication and mutual understanding. While these a
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
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
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
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
Michael Kientz
Some Interesting Principles But Challenging to Follow

The author was not able to complete this book before he died, so some parts are only partially formed. Some of what he shares was revolutionary and inspiring but I found some of the medical analogies difficult to follow without more knowledge about that field. Worth the read to learn about non-anxious leadership and emotional triangles.
Sad that Friedman couldn't have finished this before his untimely death. The editors did a great job producing a finished version from his manuscripts. Still, some pieces seem fragmented, as though the thoughts weren't as refined as they would have been for a Friedman-finished publication.

Overall, though, the content of this book is fantastic. I'll flesh out my review in the near future. In the meantime, if you're on the fence, go ahead and fall off on the side that has a bookstore.
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
Eileen Carter
This book was recommended by my minister to read. At first I'll admit I was taken back by it. What? I don't have nerve? I am anxious was my thought. But as I read the book I was shocked that in fact I was living or am living a life of a chronically anxious family. This book breaks it down into 4 characteristics: reactivity, herding, blame displacement and quick fix mentality. You well be able to see where you are in the characteristics of chronic anxiety. You well also read about the thinking of ...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.
Ineffectively uses biology to suggest how managers should behave (eg selfishly but with integrity) to improve the organism/institution. The author calls this being "self-differentiated".
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
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
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.
Dave Stracke
This book should be on a must-read list of books for public leadership roles.
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