Book Review: Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin Friedman by Chaplain Greg Slate

Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin Friedman

8 hours reading time

 by Chaplain Greg Slate, BCC

I am always seeking to find the newest thinking on the topic of leadership.  This book was suggested to me by a colleague with whom I worked at Denver Seminary. 

Interestingly, I had not heard of Edwin Friedman at the time.  This was difficult to understand as I began reading this book, realizing only then that Friedman was well known in many circles of power for his insights into the human condition. 

Usually, I find authors that are willing to share their wisdom learned from personal experience especially helpful.  Friedman did this very well, telling stories from his experience with leaders that came to him for counseling.  Often, these were leaders, many of whom were serving in governmental posts in Washington, D.C., were struggling to cope with very complex situations in which their normal way of operating was no longer providing the type of results they had come to expect.

Friedman was clearly someone who had gleaned a tremendous amount of wisdom by working within systems and understanding how to operate in a more healthy way than he often observed.

His premise in the book seems to be that many in leadership don’t really understand the systems they are working within or are trying to lead.  In many cases, the ability or the desire to push against the status quo in order to effect change has been lost.  Friedman makes the case that often, a leader must be willing to in some ways go out on a limb, to be courageous in suggesting to others a new way forward.  However, this would seem to be rare because many are unwilling to take that type of risk, concerned about the way they may be perceived if they potentially fail in the effort.  Friedman makes the case that failure often provides learning that will inform future decision making and will set an example for others that the organization values creativity and a willingness to take acceptable risks in order to remain nimble and vibrant rather than always taking what is perceived to be the safe route ahead.  It helps to create a culture in which failure is not to be criticized but in fact is part of the creative process and is in some ways celebrated.

I thought it was very interesting that this particular book was never finished being written by the author before his death.  Those that knew him well took up the responsibility to look at notes left behind to complete the writing in his honor.  This says a great deal about the impact that he had on his colleagues and in his family.  I would definitely recommend this as a must read for all of those seeking a fresh way to engage mantel of leadership.