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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,517 ratings  ·  239 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 pare
Paperback, 260 pages
Published February 1st 2007 by Seabury Books
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Douglas Wilson
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Elf M.
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jenny Karraker
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 while ...more
Tim McIntosh
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 are c
Mar 29, 2022 rated it really liked it
This book is like whisky. It is a book that goes meta, describes everything about your world from relationships to institutions to cultural trends, and offers solutions that intuitively make more sense and even relieve you of the burdens you never knew you had.

The book that came to mind most often by comparison is Taleb's Antifragile, which is also a meta book that talks about the individual and the social interchangeably, both looking at the body for insights into how the world works. For that
Kyle Grindberg
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I appreciate Friedman, but I don't really know why. I got saved during my pursuit of my Psychology degree at the University of Minnesota. Since coming to faith I have a fraught relationship with Psychology. For me, not growing up in the church, the more and more of the Word of God I got in me, the more and more I found psychology wanting in its descriptions of man, as well as in its prescribed solutions for him. This was a problem, because I was well-into my Psychology degree. I ended up transfe ...more
Jake McAtee
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Get Edwin into your veins now, before it's too late. ...more
Ted Tyler
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though most of these chapters were written in the 1980s and 1990s (later being published posthumously in 2007), it could have easily been written in 2020. Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman nukes the sacred cows of leadership into oblivion. He writes that today's leaders are crippled by anxiety and that are institutions are weakening due to poor leadership. What's to blame for the chronic anxiety that ruining the lives of so many leaders and leading to high rates of burnout? Rabbi Friedman would say t ...more
Aug 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
PROVOKING! I could not put this book down. The reading is heavy but it's so honest in regards to our leadership today. I have so many favorite chapters but the 2 that resonated were:

3: Data Junkyards and Data Junkie: The Fallacy of Expertise -> "As long as leaders base their confidence on how much data they have acquired, they are doomed to feeling inadequate"

7. Emotional Triangles -> "Staying in a triangle without getting triangled oneself gives one far more power that never entering the triang
Becky Pliego
Really good. A must read for those who want to march onward with a strong confidence and leadership and not only survive these times where emotions and feelings, and data and statistics seem to rule.

If you are starting to fall in for the empathy crowd, get this book SOON, and read it before you are taken captive by their sensual arguments.

I’m giving this book 4 stars and not 5 only because of all the evolution stuff in it.
Samuel Kassing
Jul 15, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A look at Family System Theory and how that shapes leadership dynamics.

A challenging read and a call to self-differentiation.
Sean Higgins
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: print, kindle, leadership
May 2019 5/5 stars. With all the qualifications from my previous reviews in mind, this book is just a great challenge.

“To be a leader, one must both have and embody a vision of where one wants to go. It is not a matter of knowing or believing one is right; it is a matter of taking the first step.”


December 2013: Read again and discussed with the TEC elders through 2013. Fantastic material for a leadership team, as long as that team already has a strong theological basis.

Zachary Wilke
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've read large portions of Friedman before, but his principles have come up in enough conversations lately that I decided I needed to finally finish it. This book is simply a must-read. Of course, his evolutionary biology is goofy and must be qualified, but the principles are sound and are only enhanced with Biblical support. ...more
Sep 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Best leadership book I’ve read. Has radically changed my starting point for good leadership
Logan Thune
Mar 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
A very important and requisite book for leaders and counselors to read. A book that in many ways describes and explains our times. So many nuggets of gold mixed in with a spattering of evolutionary nonsense.
Fr. Thomas Reeves
Second Read. I have often referred back to this book over my ministry.

The first time I read this book (over 15 years ago) I found it extremely helpful in clarifying for me how all-encompassing the "emotional systems" of human groups truly are in any kind of human "family system" (and encouraging for me regarding the patterns I was seeing among leaders and voices in the American Protestant Church).

From Individual families to any organized institution of any-kind - it takes we, humans, no courage
Brett Leyde
Jan 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Been working my way through this one for awhile. Dense and hard to wrap your mind around it all, but there is a lot of insight to be had.

Favorite quotes:

The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. If you want your child, spouse, client, or boss to shape up, stay connected while changing yourself rather than trying to fix them.

It will encourage leaders to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their
April Yamasaki
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Lisa Lewton
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a book I’m constantly going back to. For more than a decade I’ve listened to the lecture that served as some of the manuscript for this book before Friedman died suddenly. This has been one of the most important books I’ve read to guide me as a pastor and parent. I consider his wisdom sage like, timeless. We often go about in the world unaware of our lack of boundaries, or complicit about others’ lack of boundaries and responsibility. Leadership at home and work requires truth telling an ...more
Aaron Ventura
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Friedman's insights are gold if you can integrate them into a Biblical framework. He attempts to root his anthropological findings in evolution and ends up with a weak substructure for WHY relationships and conflict are the way they are. If you are a pastor or leader of any kind, you need to read this along with Rene Girard's mimetic/conflict/envy paradigm. ...more
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am going to liberally estimate that I only understood 70% of this book. It describes a countercultural view of leadership to my millennial twenty-something norms/views. Although a Friedman is a Jew, the leader he described seemed a lot like Jesus.

Self-differentiated leadership - that’s the direction I want to head in.

I’d have to read the book a second time to tell you anymore about it.
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirit
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.
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is my go to book on leadership and should be on every leaders shelf.
Lukas Mason
Really solid in parts, but really whacky in others. In depth review coming.
Laurence Wilkinson
Feb 14, 2021 rated it liked it
I’ve given a low score not because the ideas within are poor but because, in my opinion, it’s written poorly. It’s frustratingly repetitive and wordy—probably because the late author died before he had the chance to make it coherent.

I was also unsettled by how self-important the author came across when he likened himself to a modern-day Colombus who’s book would bring leadership into the New World. Perhaps it really is as pioneering as he says, and I just haven’t yet read enough on leadership,
Tim Littleford
Dec 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of the best books I've read this year. Shifted and shaped my understanding of leadership, particularly in anxious settings. The concepts Friedman espouses will be invaluable for my current work and future ministry callings.

Just a few of them that impacted me:
Presence over strategies.
Integrity as an immune response within your own life system
Bringing accountability back in balance with empathy.
Emotional triangles (can't unsee that)
Leaders go first.
Well differentiated leadership alway
Oliver Pierce
Jan 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paradigm shifting book for me. I had heard the terms “non-anxious presence,” “self-differentiation” & “triangulation” throw around in passing in books and lectures but this put the pieces of family system together in a very compelling way. I feel like I’m finally understanding why certain some things have been unfruitful and other things fruitful in my life and ministry. His examples and illustrations are excellent. The book is soaked in wisdom that seems so much deeper—all way down to the micro ...more
Errol Castens
It would be unfair to distill this highly insightful book into a single statement, but its dominant theme of how effectively to lead an organization - family, church, company, or nation - is one that any student of the Bible recognizes quickly: Do not fear.
Gavin Brand
Nov 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book is so helpful. Put it on your must read list.
Colby McKenzie Clifford
Oct 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
stands at the risk of displeasing. No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity. p.15-16
It is the integrity of the leader that promotes the integrity or prevents the “dis-integration” of the system he or she is leading. p.21

Seeking answers can be its own treadmill. Changing the question enables one to step off. It was a long t
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