Dr. Edwin Friedman - the eminent psychologist, therapist, lecturer and consultant - didn't finish A Failure of Nerve before his untimely death in 1996. His wife and several former colleagues went ahead and finished it for him.
I use a number of sources as the theological and philosophical bases for my approach to leading and training leaders. But Friedman's works (Generation to Generation and A Failure of Nerve) have become my primary psychological foundation for leadership.
Here's a quote from the introduction of Failure. Emphases are mine.
"I believe there exists throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amid the raging anxiety-storms of our time. It is a highly reactive atmosphere pervading all the institutions of our society - a regressive mood that contaminates the decision-making processes of government and corporations at the highest level, and, on the local level, seeps down into the deliberations of neighborhood church, synagogue, hospital, library, and school boards...It is my perception that this leadership-toxic climate runs the danger of squandering a natural resource far more vital to the continued evolution of our civilization than any part of the environment. We are polluting our own species. The more immediate threat to the regeneration, and perhaps even the survival, of American civilization is internal, not external. It is our tendency to adapt to its immaturity. To come full circle, this kind of emotional climate can only be dissipated by clear, decisive, well-defined leadership. For whenever a 'family' is driven by anxiety, what will also always be present is a failure of nerve among its leaders."
Friedman goes on to detail the symptoms of nerve failure throughout the book. And of course he outlines the cure - which is brilliant, yet astonishingly easy to understand.
I must admit that the book could have used more of Friedman's touch - he was the master of applied Family Systems Theory and he also had a way with words that his proteges have unfortunately not quite captured. But nonetheless, the ideas expressed in the book stand, in my opinion, as the genesis of what I hope will become a significant new trajectory in leadership thinking.
I'm now old enough to have paid attention to a sizable chunk of the political discourse in this country. And in watching the presidential campaigns, culminating in yesterday's election, I'm reminded of Friedman's analysis.
Now more than ever I'm convinced Friedman was right on when he spoke of our nasty, self-destructive tendency to adapt to our own personal and national immaturities - to adapt toward weakness rather than strength. Here's an example of what I'm talking about.
What is Peggy actually saying? Is her fundamental approach good for her or for our country?
Again, I'm with Friedman - I believe we're polluting our own species. Any thoughts?