Throughout the last three weeks of my course in Leading Organizational Leadership at Lamar University, I had the opportunity to read two very influential texts: A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Both texts focused on the remarkable qualities possessed by strong leaders and the ways in which leaders relate to others.
In A Failure of Nerve, Friedman describes leadership as “the emotional process of regulating one’s own anxiety” (Bardwell, 2010). He discusses how leaders are like cells and know their purpose and are clearly defined. Leaders are capable of staying connected to others while avoiding taking on the anxiety or problems without allowing the issues to alter their focus on the larger goal. Additionally, Friedman believes that self-differentiated learners are able to tolerate the discomfort of others while avoiding becoming stuck in “emotional triangles;” more specifically, toxic relationships that can create more problems and have the potential to create more anxiety that will sabotage an organization.
In terms of my own process of becoming a self-differentiated leader, I will be focused on utilizing several of Friedman’s principles. I must remain very focused on the ultimate goal of creating an “Innovation Station” at my school, while still being able to respectfully relate to the opinions and concerns of my peers. I must also become skilled at diffusing other’s anxiety while not allowing it to cloud my vision. Finally, I must learn to respond to the inevitable challenges that will arise throughout the installation process in a way that is non-anxious and helps to diffuse the discomfort of others. My response to these types of situations will ultimately let me connect with my peers in meaningful ways, allowing my Innovation Plan to remain on track.
So, how exactly do I create this type of relationship with my peers? How do I stay focused on my goal while supporting those around me and not letting myself become part of a dangerous “emotional triangle”? The answer lies in cultivating an organization that isn’t scared to have tough, emotionally charged conversations. These “crucial conversations” stem from conversations that have differing opinions, high stakes, and strong emotions. As a leader, it is my job to model how to have such conversations, proving that issues can be tackled in a respectful, direct, and professional way.
In order to have crucial conversations, there are several factors that need to be addressed. First, I need to create a culture where people can feel safe to discuss difficult issues. Next, I need to model how to control negative emotions while engaged in emotionally-charged dialogue. Finally, I need to make sure that I stay focused on my ultimate goal throughout the conversation. In summary, to be the type of self differentiated leader I aspire to be, I need to work on myself first, make sure my motives are clear, and make sure that I know what I want from the conversation.
Albert Einstein once said, “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Becoming a self-differentiated leader capable of having crucial conversations is a process that requires a great deal of personal reflection. It is a process, not a destination. The steps of the process are shown below.
Upon reflection on these steps, I realized that to become the type of leader in crucial conversations I want to be, I need to work closely on two distinct areas: learn to look and master my stories. These are areas where I am vulnerable. The failure to improve in these areas would result in not only a failed crucial conversation, but also a potential increase in anxiety within my organization that could jeopardize the success of my Innovation plan.
As my school year begins, I will be utilizing an approach to implementation that is routed in self-differentiated leadership, as well as focused on having successful crucial conversations. By using both approaches in tandem, I know that I will be able to lead my school in the implementation of my plan and foster an environment that is prime for both life-long learning and strong, successful differentiated leaders.
Bardwell, M. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s theory of differentiated learning made simple.
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Callibrain. (2015, August 20). Video review for crucial conversations by Kerry Patterson. Retrieved
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VitalSmarts India. (2012, February 10). Crucial Conversations explained in 2 minutes. Retrieved from