A Failure of Nerve Edwin FriedmanI’m reading back through Edwin Friedman’s, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix for a class I’m teaching. I continue to marvel at Friedman’s knowledge of emotional processes and their impact on leadership. Here are a few quotes I’ll share on this fine Wednesday–and I encourage you to pick up this remarkable book (link at the bottom).

“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.”

“Leaders need… to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than through techniques for manipulating or motivating others.”

“Sabotage . . . comes with the territory of leading…. 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.”

“Leaders function as the immune systems of the institutions they lead—not because they ward off enemies, but because they supply the ingredients for the system’s integrity.”


The important thing to remember about the phenomenon of sabotage is that it is a systemic part of leadership—part and parcel of the leadership process. Another way of putting this is that 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 endured the resultant sabotage that the leader can feel truly successful.

Edwin Friedman
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Church Publishing, 2007), Kindle Locations: 4772-4775