Reinventing leadership

Revd Andrew Corsie leads us on 'Reinventing Leadership.'

We consider the thesis of Edwin H Friedman (1932-1996).

Friedman supervised professional people and was a family therapist, advisor and Rabbi. He wrote 'Generation to Generation.' His books explore Family Systems Theory.

'What is vital to changing any kind of "family" is not knowledge of technique or even of pathology but, rather, the capacity of the family leader to define his or her own goals and values while trying to maintain a non-anxious presence within the system. Also, when it comes to change in families, clarity may be more important than empathy.' Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (Guilford Family Therapy) Paperback – 12 Apr 2011 by Edwin H. Friedman  (Author)

Friedman embeds this micro theory in the macro - looking at seismic shifts and culture change on a global scale first and applying his findings at the local level.

Contrasting the pre and post "Galileon"  (Copernicon revolution) mindset is fascinating for what it reveals about shifts in patterns of thinking, for example. The world discovered the rest of the universe! Before this there was a certain stasis in thinking manifesting itself.

With stasis the thought that there is certain solution often comes too quickly. However, it becomes evident that you can not just 'think' more - you have to be open to encountering 'serendipity' or in the case of the Christian community: God. You have to become open to 'adventure' and the re-framing of the narratives you tell about yourself. You need to be bold and innovating in coming into solution.

There are barriers to be overcome when systems become stuck. Friedman's thinking is said to be subversive but not because it is confrontational but because it requires the rejection of particular once-framing narratives. It requires too the exposure of common fallacies.

Modern life is filled with tension and quick fixes fail. People overreact and blame cultures develop and communities become risk-averse. The existence of the 'anxious family' is a very real phenomenon in any institution which can consequently become characterised by high levels of reactivity. Reactive responses are those that are automatic and rash. Friedman suggests a person can handle emotion with their thinking prowess. He explores the neo-cortex and the reptilian complex (which is close to Limbic system) and how far regulation can become possible. In a highly anxious system there is the lack of the end of one being and the beginning of another. The anxious system becomes a blaming system. The responsibilities of the self are projected onto the institution so that people become violent and litigious. There is linear thinking - the thought that solutions to problems exist and in simple ways - easy answers are sought but really the problems are the result of many complex circumstances all coming together.

To be effective as a leader in situations like this one must deal with this problem of high anxiety.

There is the need to promote and develop differentiated leadership.

The innovative leader is to be shaped less by the expertise thought to be bound up within the social sciences and is to become more dependent on instincts but instincts that are borne out of a right discernment founded in guiding principles and self-regulation, maturity, persistence, stability and vision.

Forces for self and forces for togetherness need careful navigation. This is because very powerful fallacies exist (Christians would call them idols) about 'togetherness.' We tend to adapt to one another and the comfort that we feel in togetherness is very strong. The host needs to be aware of where they are complicit in these overlapping and sometimes competing systems. Where are you attracted to this togetherness for its 'comfort,' the position it gives you?  Be aware too that as soon as you self-regulate and seem not to need the 'togetherness,' seem not to be vulnerable, there will be the temptation by the group to sabotage you, to undercut you.

The Empathy Fallacy
Bound up too with 'togetherness' is the idea that as long as we are nice and we feel for others we will get through - but this is not the fix. Values are key: values are absolutely important and the acknowledgement too that values can not be put in to others, values need to be worked through - we need to be able to discern good winds from bad winds in a storm. We have to know something about wind! In other words it is not enough just to feel for someone. When does this then also lead to compromise that is unhealthy as the driving vision and values become displaced in order to appease? This is a question that always need to be asked.

The Empathy fallacy is that if we can just get inside people's heads enough and understand the 'other' and feel for them then everything will be all right. In actual fact this is not possible. I am me and you are you and there is a rightness about differentiation. Instead differentiation needs to be actively pursued. By differentiating people come to be responsible for their own emotional life and actions. There is a right defining of what belongs to me and what belongs to you.Those that lack self-regulation need to be helped to define self and so mature. Once we know who we are, really are, we know how to react appropriately to situations in life. Trouble can spread in actual fact when people lack self-regulation and over-empathise with the allegedly troubled.

The Expertise Fallacy.
The other fallacy already hinted at in regard to the social sciences, indeed any sciences, or any information transmitting systems, in general, is that if I could only get my hands on more theories, books, leadership journals, experts etc this might be the other way that everything will be all right. This is a fallacy too. It is interesting this one, because Friedman therefore seems to debunk himself, negate, do away with himself - for is not his just another theory?

However, there is something in what he says. A constant seeking after information brings on that feeling of being overwhelmed. It ultimately leads to the very thing that Friedman advocates to be at the centre of most dis-function: anxiety. People can not get hold of enough information to solve their problems. This in itself creates anxiety.

So how can leaders establish identity within the communities they are leading?

As leaders we need to be very conscious and aware of our own capabilities. Primarily, by understanding our own anxiety levels and how to manage them. It is important also to find those non-anxiously present people and share leadership with them. There needs to be a letting go of control and a constant reformulation of where you are at, at any present and particular moment. There needs to be a pursuit of wisdom, a not responding when you are anxious; a holding back and reflecting on what that anxiety is all about, really about?

This can be found in a working smart and working less approach to the problem, a not worrying so much about what you are going to say, a repositioning of yourself within a group and a working out of those double-binds; a paying attention to your own emotional life. It is necessary to give the anxiety back to its rightful owner. Become aware of what is your 'stuff' and what is someone else's. The emotional temperature always needs to be monitored. 'Anxiety' or emotional reactivity always needs wise, careful and prayerful navigation.

Self-differentiated or self-defined leadership is important - that ability to stand separate from the group and yet attend to it. The leader is to self-define. There is not so much the need to be a good role-model, good role models do not produce good followers, this just increases leader stress. What matters is how well the leader is differentiated from the group. The importance of being well differentiated and being a non anxious presence is much more important.

Emotional triangles work against self-differentiation - when people get together the emotional systems that they create become the emotional fields in which they operate - matter gets close to matter and the field comes into existence. It then has more power to influence the matter that came into the field than to actually change the situation. It determines the orbit and everything becomes stuck within it. When people become poorly differentiated from one another there can be stasis. Can people function in well-differentiated ways and not be determined by the field? This does not mean isolating yourself from the field - you just need to be aware of where you end and the field begins - how much should the field determine your functioning, really?

The way to help is to let everyone know that you will get through this period together. There are possibilities for the future. There is not the anxiety in you that will add to the field and its dynamic. The process is an ongoing one, no quick solutions, remember, and it takes rigour in your thinking and courage in your heart.

It is your ideas that have to motivate you to become differentiated, in the case of the Christian leader: the Gospel. You are to know what you are all about to not be overtaken.

You need to be persistent, visionary and to have stamina.
Be self-regulated, self-differentiated and determined.

You can not compromise, you need to be bold and adventuring. This not compromising has not the hard edge that people might assume. There is a rightness actually to 'progress' over peace where progress is a right peace, a God-defined Peace - God's Shalom; God's right rule and reign for each person in that community under God.

'Healing and survival depend on existential categories: on vision, for example, on hope, on the
imaginative capacity, on the ability to transcend the anxiety of those about us, and on a response to 
challenge that treats crisis as opportunity for growth.' 

Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (Guilford Family Therapy) Paperback – 12 Apr 2011 by Edwin H. Friedman  (Author)

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions