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System Failure

In the book “A Failure of Nerve” by Edwin Friedman, the author says that “leadership is an emotional process of regulating one’s anxiety,” which he calls self-differentiated leadership. His core premise is that the self-differentiated leader is one’s inability to regulate and control one’s anxiety and standing firm amid other people’s emotional anxiety and reactivity. When this emotional stability is absent in leadership, he describes this as “a failure of nerve,” which leads to an unhealthy, dysfunctional culture, spreading like an infectious disease throughout the organization.


The body’s immune system defends the body against infection. One of its most critical tasks is recognizing and neutralizing harmful germs or cells, including disease-causing changes, i.e., cancer cells.



I equate the undisciplined, emotionally charged leader to an autoimmune disorder in which the system unknowingly attacks the healthy components of the host’s body. I’ve been under leadership where they are reactive, emotionally unstable, and blame displacement. Their failure of indecisiveness led to a high turnover rate, ineffective communication, toxic positivity, and many program changes due to a quick-fix mentality. This person was later transferred to another middle school and promoted to the position of high-school principal. This individual was terminated after almost a decade of damage and only when their leadership began to affect graduation rates, and there was a rise in parental concerns.


Friedman, E. H. (2007). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. Church Publishing, Inc.

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