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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Proffitt

Podcast: A Failure of Nerve with Terry Feix

Check out the So We Speak podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

In his book, Friedman identifies five signs of an anxious society:

  1. Reactivity (What you do is reactive to what someone else does)

  2. Herding (You do what others around you are doing)

  3. Blaming (Not taking responsibility for individual actions or choices)

  4. Quick-Fix (Going with the easiest and fastest solution)

  5. Lack of leadership

Leadership and Emotions

Leadership is an emotional process, not a date-driven, cerebral process. An anxious society is created when the emotional life of a group of individuals is out of whack. Great leaders are interested in the emotional lives of their people, not simply performance.

Another symptom of an anxious society is when the least emotionally mature individual sets the tone and agenda for the group – all focus goes to that least functional individual, and the whole group tracks at that level.

Take Responsibility

Friedman does not look at leadership as coddling people, but as taking ownership of our own emotions and not getting sucked into the anxiety of the group. Friedman says, “A well-differentiated leader is someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals; therefore, they are far less likely to become lost in the anxious, emotional processes that are swirling around you.”

We live in a culture of outrage. Our society is unable to distinguish between the speaker, intent, and what was said. Offense is taken at the drop of a hat. This eliminates the hearer’s responsibility to distinguish between speaker, intent, and speech and process with emotional maturity. This creates low emotional resilience and a reliance on feelings over facts.

Differentiated leaders are called to be a non-anxious presence amid emotional upheaval. This requires that these leaders not be indifferent to the feelings of others, but not controlled by the feelings of others. Differentiated leaders are to remain emotionally connected to others and understand how their presence impacts others - positively or negatively.


Friedman has been discussing what he terms the “differentiated leader.” Differentiation can be defined as…

  1. Maintaining a non-anxious presence when the others around you are anxious

  2. Being able to cease automatically being one of the system's emotional dominoes

  3. Being clear about own personal values and goals

  4. Taking maximum responsibility for your own emotional being, or blaming others or the context for how you are reacting

Friedman relates the differentiated/undifferentiated leadership style to family units and parenting. A family is an emotional unit. If a child (especially) were to attempt to differentiate, an attempt would be made to fold him/her back into the emotional structure of the family unit. If someone does this as a leader, that leader will be challenged.

Barriers to Differentiated Leadership

Technology is also a barrier to differentiating leadership because distraction is a major barrier. It is impossible to be differentiated if you do not know who you are or where you are going.

Distraction and technology keep us from thinking about who we are and where we want to go. As a society, we are very uncomfortable with boredom. Distraction and technology keep us from being bored and from critical thinking.

The Solution

This book lands with a strong call to leadership through differentiation. The issue is that leading with this philosophy by itself can lead to narcissism. This is half of the puzzle. A healthy leader simultaneously pursues an emotional connection with people while leading with a differentiated mindset.

Friedman was a Jewish Rabbi, so there will be a difference between his and Christian values of leadership when played out practically. As stated above, it is easiest to be well-differentiated when you have a solid identity. For Christians, that identity is found in Christ.

Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We


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