Self-differentiated leadership is an important topic for me. I spent years in leadership in various ministry positions. And I continue taking on leadership roles within my newer vocation of marriage and family therapy. But self-differentiated leadership has become even more important lately. That’s because I know I haven’t always led well.
Unfortunately, I probably made the same mistake as many other leaders. I “imbibed on data and technique” rather than working on the central task that makes someone a great leader.
What is the central task leaders need to work on? Themselves! By resolving their personal and emotional issues, individuals lead out of a more effective and differentiated place than leaders who do not.
I’ve written on the importance of self-differentiation several times. For example, I addressed the difference between authenticity and differentiation. The role of family of origin work in pastoral leadership. And that leaders are only as successful as their levels of differentiation.
Expert Advice for Self-Differentiated Leadership
Edwin Friedman’s work on differentiated leadership and his focus on the emotional process of leaders (especially how they regulate anxiety) sets him apart from other theorists. It also sets him above most leadership ideas. That’s because he gets to the heart of leadership, which ultimately emanates from the leader. Simply put, the self-differentiated leader is able to lead more effectively.
Friedman says this about how differentiation compares to collecting data and gathering more technique:
It was at this point that I began to realize that before any technique or data could be effective, leaders had to be willing to face their own selves. Otherwise the effect of technique was like trying to build up energy in a spring where the initial twists store up more potential and then suddenly, with one twist too many, the entire spring unwinds. If this sounds similar to the recover problems of alcoholics, there may be more to the association than we would care to admit….the chronic anxiety in American society has made the imbibing of data and technique addictive precisely because it enables leaders not to have to face their selves. (pp. 21)
I highly recommend reading Friedman’s works. The materials are a must for all leaders. Check out A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Also read Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. Both books will revolutionize how you think about leadership.
For now, take a look at this video. It sums up in a straightforward way some of Friedman’s views on self-differentiated leadership.