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A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix Paperback – February 1, 2007


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A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix + Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (The Guilford Family Therapy Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: SEABURY BOOKS (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159627042X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596270428
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Edwin H. Friedman was an ordained rabbi and practicing family therapist. His ground-breaking volume Generation to Generation, which exposed the connections between emotional process at home and at work in religious, educational, therapeutic, and business systems, has become a modern classic. In great demand as a consultant and public speaker throughout the country, he lived in Washington DC. He died in 1996.

More About the Author

The late Edwin Friedman was an ordained rabbi and practicing family therapist. His ground-breaking work, Generation to Generation, exposed the emotional connections between home and work in religious, educational, therapeutic, and business systems, and has become a modern classic. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, is an acclaimed work on leadership. Friedman died in 1996.

Customer Reviews

For Friedman, good leadership is about personal integrity and a non-anxious presence.
Travis R. Beck
My penciled-in noted on the margins attest to the insights I found myself coming to as I worked through the book.
William Pinches
Failure of Nerve is one of the best books that I've read on leadership in a long time.
Tim Lubinus

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 144 people found the following review helpful By William Pinches on October 5, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is perhaps Edwin Friedman's magnum opus -- or would have been, had he lived to see this to completion. Building on his earlier work in Generation to Generation and on a multitude of conversations he had been involved in since the publication of that work in 1985, Friedman was working on this book on leadership at the time of his death in 1996. Friedman's wife worked with several of his colleagues to bring the manuscript to print -- at least, the 300+ pages that Friedman had written by that point. The first five chapters are thorough; the latter five chapters are somewhat more sketchy; but there is enough material here that the interested reader can get a pretty good glimpse of where Friedman was headed.

Friedman's thesis: there is a "failure of nerve" in American civilization today. "There exists," he says, "throughout America today a rampant sabotaging of leaders who try to stand tall amidst 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." This reactivity leads to what he calls a "leadership-toxic climate" that makes it exceptionally difficult for clear, decisive, well-defined leadership to function effectively. The book, he says, "is about leadership in the land of the quick fix, about leadership in a society so reactive that it cannot choose leaders who might calm its anxiety.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Frank Staropoli on June 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
Note: This review originally appeared as a "You Be the Critic" column in the Rochester NY Democrat & Chronicle, 5/8/07:

In 20 years of coaching executives, I've read scores of books on leadership. I continue to return to Edwin Friedman as the most insightful, realistic analyst of the dynamics that occur in the emotional soup we call the workplace.

This book is not for the faint of heart. As the title implies, the antidote to a failure of nerve is courage. Courage becomes necessary once a leader begins to shift his/her own participation in the brokenness of the organization - e.g., to finally address a performance issue with a key employee. With this commitment to decisive, mature action, reactions are inevitable. Thus the need for courage: to persist in the face of those reactions.

Leaders will discover keys to recognize the emotionality that contaminates all decision-making processes, and what is required to provide clear, decisive, well-defined action. Friedman offers a treasure trove of tools, concepts and principles (e.g., five characteristics of a highly anxious system) to help leaders diagnose complex situations and to determine what is helpful and what is harmful.

Perhaps his most crucial contribution is the insistence that the leader focus on self: that is, in order to create transformation in a system, the leader needs to identify his/her participation in the present dynamic, and focus on altering his/her own role. Again, courage is a requirement here, but thankfully, focus on self diminishes the stress inherent in attempting to change others.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By pdeldc on June 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book provides a great application of Bowen family systems theory on a macro level. Having some basic understanding of family systems theory is helpful, but not absolutely necessary, in understanding the concepts of this book. Friedman applies family systems ideas to leadership in ways that will make you think differently about what makes an effective leader (whether it be a President or a parent or any leader in between). For those, like me, who use family systems on a micro level in psychotherapy to help individuals and families function better, seeing how these same family system ideas can also be applied to the "big picture" is eye opening. Friedman's writing style is clear and enjoyable. As a framework to explain his theories on leadership, Friedman uses the cultural mindset that existed in Europe at the time explorers were proposing to set out across the Atlantic to seek new trade routes to Asia. This framework may seem odd and out of place, but is in fact a clever and captivating means for Friedman to explain his theories effectively. The editors of this book also deserve praise in how they astutely updated and stayed true to this unfinished work by Friedman. Whether you are a leader looking for new ideas to become more effective in what you do or simply a person who is just interested in leadership as a cultural concept, this book will inspire you to think differently and question conventional wisdom.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Stephans VINE VOICE on November 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
A Failure of Nerve presents a unique approach on leadership among the books I have read on the topic. Friedman concentrates on several themes throughout the book that combine lessons learned from decades of experience and research.

The themes include the necessity of a sense of adventure and the possession of courage in leaders, the importance of self-differentiation, focusing on strengths instead of catering to weaknesses, the destructive nature of relationship triangles and the challenges leaders face among followers.

He highlights some negative practices of leaders in our culture, mainly the over-dependence on data and information and the misplaced emphasis on emphathy over action.

In this book, readers will find practical, simple ways to improve leadership. This book will challenge some of the accepted practices of organizational leadership today and should open readers' eyes to necessities of effective leadership.

All of Friedman's themes are applicable to families, congregations, businesses, government, etc. This is an especially useful book for parents and pastors/rabbis.

The downside of the book is that it was published posthomously, so the last three chapters were collected by colleagues who also edited the book. The effect is that it is not as cogent and concise as it might have been if Friedman had lived long enough to complete the writing himself.

This is a dense book on leadership that is definitely worth the effort of reading, as it will change the way you lead and relate to others.

Craig Stephans, author of Shakespeare On Spirituality: Life-Changing Wisdom from Shakespeare's Plays
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