“The problems confronting leadership in our society today, the failure of nerve and the desire for a quick fix, are not the result of overly strong self, but of weak or no self… Well-developed self in a leader—self-differentiation—is not only critical to effective leadership, it is the leadership characteristic that is most likely to promote the kind of community that preserves the self of its members.”
Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve
These words of Edwin Friedman are prescient and disturbing. It is impossible to ignore the kind of leadership being displayed daily by the man in the White House. To say nothing about it feels like an accommodation of incongruence. History has taught us that this strategy never ends well.
In an attempt to understand some of the dynamics occurring I returned to systems theory. Like most of you I was immersed in systems theory in graduate school and have studied and used my growing knowledge of it over many years. It is essential information and a helpful framework for understanding what we are currently experiencing.
I have worked in several psychiatric institutions with stellar training programs for residents in psychiatry and psychology, social work, nursing and vocational rehabilitation. Two of them were private institutions both of which were superb centers of learning, able to attract the best in the field to come, teach, consult and practice.
At the Psychiatric Institute in Washington D.C., Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Virginia Satir were two of the major thought leaders to whom we turned to ensure continued effectiveness in the work with individuals, families and groups.
Later on I discovered Edwin Friedman and Edgar Schein, both of whom offered particularly insightful and transformational ways of thinking. What I found especially helpful is the finding by Friedman that the impact of leadership on systems, whether family, group, organization, or even a nation is similar. The emotionality in each is the same.
Every system has a field of emotional interconnectivity/interdependence that promotes cohesiveness and cooperation necessary to protect and support the survival of those within it. It is also the way the system maintains its stability and survivability when dealing with tension. When tensions escalate and rise to a point of high anxiety the emotionality in the system becomes infectious. Some in the system feel overwhelmed, isolated, and out of control. These are the people who will accommodate the most to reduce the tension; they become the bearer of the system’s problems and unresolved issues. In the therapeutic world we speak of this person as the “identified patient”; in reality, they are the symptom bearers of the dysfunction in the system and can easily become the scapegoat.
There are some other ways systems react to high anxiety or overload:
What is at stake are in the closing words in the quote I began with by Friedman:
“On the broadest scale, the preservation of self in its leaders is a society’s greatest protection against descending into a counter-evolutionary mode. It is only the emergence of self in its leadership that can enable society, family, institutions, or a nation to evolve out of a regression.”
We must always work on our own being and self-differentiated.
The following is a list of the characteristics of self–differentiated leaders:
A list is a good start but the need to engage in the real work needed to develop these characteristics is non-negotiable. You can begin the discipline of self-reflection and awareness through reading and journaling, working with a small group of peers who share the vision and goals and support the journey of what Parker Palmer says is one of “clarifying your heart and finding the ground on which you stand.” We suggest attending a workshop that provides the space and time, expert facilitation and materials to aid you in delving deeper into the universal questions of identity, purpose, and call.
Go to www.kithoughtbridge.com for a schedule of Ki ThoughtBridge 2017-2018 workshops.
Related Topics: The Integrated Work of Leadership©