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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
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A Failure of Nerve Quotes Showing 1-30 of 44
“It has been my impression that at any gathering, whether it be public or private, those who are quickest to inject words like sensitivity, empathy, consensus, trust, confidentiality, and togetherness into their arguments have perverted these humanitarian words into power tools to get others to adapt to them.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Anyone who wishes to advance our species or an institution must possess those qualities which those who have little sense of self will perceive as narcissistic. All this besides the fact that “arrogant,” “headstrong,” “narcissistic,” and “cold” will be the terms used against any person who tries to be more himself or herself.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Those five characteristics are:    1. Reactivity: the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.    2. Herding: a process through which the forces for togetherness triumph over the forces for individuality and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members.    3. Blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.    4. A quick-fix mentality: a low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.    5. Lack of well-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four. To reorient oneself away from a focus on technology toward a focus on emotional process requires that, like Columbus, we think in ways that not only are different from traditional routes but that also sometimes go in the opposite direction. This chapter will thus also serve as prelude to the three that follow, which describe the “equators” we have to cross in our time: the “learned” fallacies or emotional barriers that keep an Old World orientation in place and cause both family and institutional leaders to regress rather than venture in new directions.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“In this chapter I will describe the effects of the data deluge on all members of society generally and how it erodes the confidence, judgment, and decisiveness of leaders in particular. Then I will show the paradoxical side of the data deluge. Despite its anxiety-provoking effects, the proliferation of data also has an addictive quality. Leaders, healers, and parents “imbibe” data as a way of dealing with their own chronic anxiety. The pursuit of data, in almost any field, has come to resemble a form of substance abuse, accompanied by all the usual problems of addiction: self-doubt, denial, temptation, relapse, and withdrawal. Leadership training programs thus wind up in the codependent position of enablers, with publishers often in the role of “suppliers.” What does it take to get parents, healers, and managers, when they hear of the latest quick-fix fad that has just been published, to “just say no”?”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“A willingness to be exposed and vulnerable. One of the major limitations of imagination’s fruits is the fear of standing out. It is more than a fear of criticism. It is anxiety at being alone, of being in a position where one can rely little on others, a position that puts one’s own resources to the test, a position where one will have to take total responsibility for one’s own response to the environment. Leaders must not only not be afraid of that position; they must come to love it.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“it may be said unequivocally that whenever anyone is in extremis (whether it is a marital crisis, an economic crisis, a political crisis, or a health crisis), their chances of survival are far greater when their horizons are formed of projected images from their own imagination rather than being limited by what they can actually see.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Leadership through self-differentiation is not easy; learning techniques and imbibing data are far easier. Nor is striving or achieving success as a leader without pain: there is the pain of isolation, the pain of loneliness, the pain of personal attacks, the pain of losing friends. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“But what is clear about pain universally is this: To the extent that we are motivated to get on with life, we seem to be able to tolerate more pain; in other words, our threshold seems to increase. Conversely, to the extent that we are unmotivated to get out of our chair, our threshold seems to go down.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Whether we are considering a toothache, a tumor, a relational bind, a technical problem, crime, or the economy, most individuals and most social systems, irrespective of their culture, gender, or ethnic background, will “naturally” choose or revert to chronic conditions of bearable pain rather than face the temporarily more intense anguish of acute conditions that are the gateway to becoming free.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“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.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“I want to stress that by well-differentiated leader I do not mean an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny. Rather, I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“With families, I stopped creating encyclopedias of data about all their issues and began to search instead for the member with the greatest capacity to be a leader as I have defined it. That person generally turned out to be the one who could express himself or herself with the least amount of blaming and the one who had the greatest capacity to take responsibility for his or her own emotional being and destiny. I began to coach the “leader” alone, letting the rest of the family drop out and stay home. I stopped trying to get people to “communicate” or find better ways of managing their issues. Instead, I began to concentrate on helping the leader to become better defined and to learn how to deal adroitly with the sabotage that almost invariably followed any success in this endeavor. Soon I found that the rest of the family was “in therapy” whether or not they came into my office.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Chronic anxiety is systemic; it is deeper and more embracing than community nervousness. Rather than something that resides within the psyche of each one, it is something that can envelope, if not actually connect, people. It is a regressive emotional process that is quite different from the more familiar, acute anxiety we experience over specific concerns. Its expression is not dependent on time or events, even though specific happenings could seem to trigger it, and it has a way of reinforcing its own momentum. Chronic anxiety might be compared to the volatile atmosphere of a room filled with gas fumes, where any sparking incident could set off a conflagration, and where people would then blame the person who struck the match rather trying to disperse the fumes. The issues over which chronically anxious systems become concerned, therefore, are more likely to be the focus of their anxiety rather than its cause. This is why, for example, counselors, educators, and consultants who offer technical solutions for how to manage whatever brought the family in—conflict, money, parents, children, aging, sex—will rarely succeed in changing that family in any fundamental way. The anxiety that drives the problem simply switches to another focus. Assuming that what a family is worried about is what is “causing” its anxiety is tantamount to blaming a blown-away tree or house for attracting the tornado that uprooted it. As”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“One of the most extraordinary examples of adaptation to immaturity in contemporary American society today is how the word abusive has replaced the words nasty and objectionable.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“(I eventually came to define my marriage counseling, no matter what the cultural mix, as trying to help people separate so that they would not have to “separate.”)”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“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.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“The focus on “need fulfillment” that so often accompanies an emphasis on empathy leaves out the possibility that what another may really “need” (in order to become more responsible) is not to have their needs fulfilled. Indeed, it is not even clear that feeling for others is a more caring stance (or even a more ethical stance) than challenging them to take responsibility for themselves. As mentioned earlier, increasing one’s threshold for another’s pain (which is necessary before one can challenge them) is often the only way the other will become motivated to increase their own threshold, thus becoming better equipped to face the challenges of life. Ultimately,”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“One of the most extraordinary examples of adaptation to immaturity in contemporary American society today is how the word abusive has replaced the words nasty and objectionable. The latter two words suggest that a person has done something distasteful, always a matter of judgment. But the use of the word abusive suggests, instead, that the person who heard or read the objectionable, nasty, or even offensive remark was somehow victimized by dint of the word entering their mind. This confusion of being “hurt” with being damaged makes it seem as though the feelings of the listener or reader were not their own responsibility, or as though they had been helplessly violated by another person’s opinion. If our bodies responded that way to “insults,” we would not make it very far past birth. The use of abusive rather than objectionable has enabled those who do not want to take responsibility for their own efforts to tyrannize others, especially leaders, with their “sensitivity.” The desire to be “inoffensive” has resulted in more than one news medium producing long lists of words, few of which are really nasty, that reporters should avoid using for fear of “hurting” someone. Obviously there are some words that are downright impolite if not always hostile and disparaging, but making everyone sensitive to the sensitivities of others plays into the hands of those who feel powerless.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“I will begin by describing the nature of an emotional regression and showing how in any society, no matter how advanced its state of technology, chronic anxiety can induce an approach to life that is counter-evolutionary. One does not need dictators in order to create a totalitarian (that, is totalistic) society. Then, employing five characteristics of chronically anxious personal families, I will illustrate how those same characteristics are manifest throughout the greater American family today, demonstrating their regressive effects on the thinking and functioning, the formation and the expression, of leadership among parents and presidents. Those five characteristics are:    1. Reactivity: the vicious cycle of intense reactions of each member to events and to one another.    2. Herding: a process through which the forces for togetherness triumph over the forces for individuality and move everyone to adapt to the least mature members.    3. Blame displacement: an emotional state in which family members focus on forces that have victimized them rather than taking responsibility for their own being and destiny.    4. A quick-fix mentality: a low threshold for pain that constantly seeks symptom relief rather than fundamental change.    5. Lack of well-differentiated leadership: a failure of nerve that both stems from and contributes to the first four. To”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“The emphasis here will be on strength, not pathology; on challenge, not comfort; on self-differentiation, not herding for togetherness. This is a difficult perspective to maintain in a “seatbelt society” more oriented toward safety than adventure. This book is not, therefore, for those who prefer peace to progress. It is not for those who mistake another’s well-defined stand for coercion. It is not for those who fail to see how in any family or institution a perpetual concern for consensus leverages power to the extremists. And it is not for those who lack the nerve to venture out of the calm eye of good feelings and togetherness and weather the storm of protest that inevitably surrounds a leader’s self-definition. For, whether we are considering a family, a work system, or an entire nation, the resistance that sabotages a leader’s initiative usually has less to do with the “issue” that ensues than with the fact that the leader took initiative.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“It may be in the ubiquitous phenomenon of terrorism that one can most easily see how universal emotional processes transcend the conventional categories of the social science construction of reality. According to the latter, families are different from nations, profit-making corporations are different from nonprofit corporations, medical institutions are different from school systems, one nation’s infrastructure is different from another’s, and so on. Yet whether we are considering any family, any institution, or any nation, for terrorism to hold sway the same three emotional prerequisites must always persist in that relationship system.    There must be a sense that no one is in charge—in other words, the overall emotional atmosphere must convey that there is no leader with “nerve.”    The system must be vulnerable to a hostage situation. That is, its leaders must be hamstrung by a vulnerability of their own, a vulnerability to which the terrorist—whether a bomber, a client, an employee, or a child—is always exquisitely sensitive.    There must be among both the leaders and those they lead an unreasonable faith in “being reasonable.” From an emotional process view of leadership, whether we are talking about families or the family of nations, these three emotional characteristics of a system are the differences that count.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“In 1970, an experiment was conducted in a French laboratory in which two organisms from the same species that had not developed immune systems were moved closer and closer toward one another. At a certain threshold of proximity, the smaller one began to disintegrate, and within twenty-four hours it had lost all the principles of its organization. The researchers tried to ascertain what the larger one had done to the smaller one, but in the end found that it had done nothing at all except exist; it had not secreted some substance, nor destroyed it in any hostile way. The smaller one simply began to disintegrate in response to the loss of distance; its disintegration was brought about through internal mechanisms triggered by the closeness of the other. The researchers concluded with the simple statement that they had induced auto-destruction in one member of a species by bringing it into proximity with a larger member of the same species. They suggested (with eye-popping consequences for chronic illness in a family) that this could be viewed as an adaptation to their relationship. It”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“frequently, the leaders of a church would come to me seeking techniques for dealing with a member of the staff or a member of the congregation who was acting obstreperously, who was ornery, and who intimidated everyone with his gruffness. I might say to them, “This is not a matter of technique; it’s a matter of taking a stand, telling this person he has to shape up or he cannot continue to remain a member of the community.” And the church leaders would respond, “But that’s not the Christian thing to do.” (Synagogue leaders also tolerate abusers for the same reason.)”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Today the issues most vulnerable to becoming displacements are, first of all, anything related to safety: product safety, traffic safety, bicycle safety, motorboat safety, jet-ski safety, workplace safety, nutritional safety, nuclear power station safety, toxic waste safety, and so on and so on. This focus on safety has become so omnipresent in our chronically anxious civilization that there is real danger we will come to believe that safety is the most important value in life. It is certainly important as a modifier of other initiatives, but if a society is to evolve, or if leaders are to arise, then safety can never be allowed to become more important than adventure. We are on our way to becoming a nation of “skimmers,” living off the risks of previous generations and constantly taking from the top without adding significantly to its essence. Everything we enjoy as part of our advanced civilization, including the discovery, exploration, and development of our country, came about because previous generations made adventure more important than safety.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Sabotage is not merely something to be avoided or wished away; instead, it comes with the territory of leading, whether the “territory” is a family or an organization. And a leader’s capacity to recognize sabotage for what it is—that is, a systemic phenomenon connected to the shifting balances in the emotional processes of a relationship system and not to the institution’s specific issues, makeup, or goals—is the key to the kingdom.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“In any type of institution whatsoever, when a self-directed, imaginative, energetic, or creative member is being consistently frustrated and sabotaged rather than encouraged and supported, what will turn out to be true one hundred percent of the time, regardless of whether the disrupters are supervisors, subordinates, or peers, is that the person at the very top of that institution is a peace-monger.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“The degree of pain we are experiencing at any time almost always includes two variables: the stimulus “causing” the discomfort, and the threshold for tolerance—that is, the capacity to overcome or perhaps reduce the sensation itself.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“Similarly, the understanding that one can get more change in a family or organization by working with the motivated members (the strengths) in the system than by focusing on the symptomatic or recalcitrant members totally obliterates the search for answers to the question of how to motivate the unmotivated.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix
“A leader must separate his or her own emotional being from that of his or her followers while still remaining connected. Vision is basically an emotional rather than a cerebral phenomenon, depending more on a leader’s capacity to deal with anxiety than his or her professional training or degree. A leader needs the capacity not only to accept the solitariness that comes with the territory, but also to come to love it. These criteria are based on the recognition that “no good deed goes unpunished”; chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better! Vision is not enough.”
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix

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