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From Crisis to Order: Why presence and being is always greater than technique and method.
Edwin Friedman insists that leadership is essentially “an emotional rather than a cognitive phenomenon.” In other words, leadership comes from your soul, not from a book or academic degree. This becomes especially clear in crisis. To bring any group of people through crisis to order, leaders must give far more attention to presence and being, than to technique or know-how. The problem is that leaders want to be (and are too often taught to become) problem-solvers and saviors. This false notion of leadership compels them to rush headlong into the vicious cycle of chronic anxiety only to find themselves reinforcing the emotional symptoms driving the crisis. Such leaders are quickly overwhelmed, fall into quick-fix solutions and succumb to a “failure of nerve.” The person with the greatest capacity to lead through crisis, Friedman advises, will not be the one who relieves pain or provides a quick-fix solution, but the one who can take responsibility for his or her emotional state of being, thereby helping others to do the same. Social psychologists have a term for this: self-differentiation.
What is Self-Differentiation?
All people struggle to find a healthy social identity. When you were a child, for example, you learned how to navigate the favorable and unfavorable pressures of family, friends and other social groups, such as at church or school. Each new social group brought pressure to conform and the desire to be accepted. You learned how you think, act and feel about yourself in relationship to others, how you are different and how you are alike. Your personality was developed, positively or negatively. Self-differentiation is the result, your identity, your self-understanding of who you are with others and how you view yourself as an individual. Since every person is unique and complex, there is a wide continuum of differentiation where you could fall. For our purposes, we will look at the two extremes.
A poorly-differentiated self is one who depends heavily on the acceptance and approval of others. They are people-pleasers, always inquiring, acquiescing or conforming to the needs and wishes of others. If you are like this, you probably see yourself being compassionate and full of mercy: a person who really cares about others. On the other hand, poorly differentiated people can also be bullies, people who are rigidly dogmatic, seeking group acceptance in unhealthy, coercive ways. In either case, poorly-differentiated people have a low threshold for pain and disagreement. To eliminate these threats, they constantly seek symptom relief with quick-fix solutions rather than fundamental change. They will assign blame or claim victimization rather than take emotional responsibility.
A well-differentiated self is one who recognizes and embraces social connection while being confident about, and taking responsibility for, one’s own values and goals. This is a delicate balance not often achieved: to be emotionally connected without being emotionally overwhelmed. So, in crisis for example, a well-differentiated person can identify and assess genuine anxiety while staying calm and clear-headed, confident in one’s own identity, purpose and values. You recognize the presence of pain, but you can separate yourself from, and resist being overcome by, chaos. Focus is key. You do not focus on the emotional crisis. You focus on principles and goals. This allows a well-differentiated leader to think clearly in crisis, neither wishy-washy and bowing to pressure, nor trying to coerce. More than anything, the well-differentiated leader offers presence and personal responsibility. She can stand alone, be vulnerable and endure criticism because her decisions are guided by values and vision, not emotional turmoil or self-interest. These are the marks of a healthy leader.
Chances are you find yourself somewhere in-between the two extremes of self-differentiation.
Perhaps you see yourself leaning more toward poor-differentiation and emotional attachment. If so, the closer you are to the extreme the more likely you will be overwhelmed and unable to lead effectively in crisis. Recognizing this deficit is the first step to change. The second step is soul-work. Differentiation is not something you can will-up or learn from a book. It is a spiritual process that takes time and a lot of work to reorient the way you think, feel and act. But there is no other way if you are called to lead. Until you go through your crisis of self-understanding, you will not be able to lead others through theirs. Get started by seeking out godly mentors who can help you explore who you are in Christ. God is calling you to change the way you lead, away from human acceptance and approval and into His presence and being.
–Jim Van Yperen
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the Quick Fix, Friedman, Edwin H., Seabury Books, page 13.
The Salvation Army: November 2018 Article
From Crisis to Order: Part 1
By Jim Van Yperen
Learning in the School of Crisis
In every good story the hero faces a crisis, a decisive turning point where a decision must be made and action must be taken. The outcome hangs in doubt-filled tension. What will she decide? What will he do? Crisis is what makes a story compelling, why we follow the story through to the end. This is true of every great story, including the story revealed in God’s Word.
Can you think of any man or woman in Scripture who did not face crisis? Certainly, no leader in God’s Kingdom was crisis-free. Instead, crisis is woven through the warp and woof of Scripture from beginning to end, from creation to consummation. Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent whom we learn later was a rebellious angel fallen from heaven. Crisis in the cosmos brought crisis to earth. The rest is history pointing us forward to a final crisis, and to promise of lasting peace. The threat of crisis and our longing for peace is what makes leadership necessary.
Crisis occurs when something you value is threatened, stripping you of control. Threat triggers deep emotion in you, usually fear and sometimes guilt or shame. Unchecked emotion can mock your faith and question your preaching. “Did God really say?” Is Jesus truly Lord? Can I trust God through my powerlessness, doubt and fear?
Has crisis ever led you to the brink of despair? If so, you are in good company. Many courageous leaders like Elijah, Jonah and Jeremiah faced moments of deep depression, so deep they asked God to kill them rather than face their crisis. Perhaps you have been there too. I have. When I was younger, I thought the lesson of crisis and point of these scriptures was negative. “Don’t be like them. Be better. Try harder. Be ‘strong and courageous.’” So, I told myself to be better and try harder. Like much human effort, it “worked,” for a while. But trying harder is not the lesson of biblical crisis stories. Being “strong and courageous” is not a call to try harder, it is a call to surrender—to trust in God, not one’s faith. Jesus calls us to an upside-down leadership that demonstrates courage and faith through brokenness. Jesus conquers death by dying on the cross, trusting the Father’s power to raise him from the dead. Paul overcomes his crisis-thorn not because God removes the thorn, but by receiving, “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness.” Leading like Jesus means learning to lead without employing human strength and power.
Crisis has taught me to read the stories of Jesus, Paul and the Prophets through the lens of vulnerability. Leaders who are commended by God are those whose strength is born in weakness and hope is found in what cannot be seen. In crisis, my first task is to embrace vulnerability, not power, as the foundation of my courage, just as men and women before me who:
“through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
But vulnerability does not mean quitting or giving up. Rather, vulnerability means an honest evaluation of the circumstances, accepting limitations rather than succumbing to the chaos and taking responsibility for one’s own emotional well-being without being overwhelmed by the emotions of others. The word crisis was first used to describe a turning point in disease, a time of intense danger when a difficult decision had to be made regarding the patient. How one chose determined what came next, for better or worse. The vital role of a physician is to differentiate between the crisis of disease and hope for cure. Leaders cannot deny, ignore or postpone crisis any more than doctors can deny disease. Crisis demands clear thinking and right choices which, the Christian leader must acknowledge, can only come from the Lord.
This leads to another lesson of crisis—thanksgiving. God’s promise is that Jesus is present in the crisis. There is more than we can see, and may not fully comprehend until God gives insight. Until then the task of the leader is to embrace vulnerability, persevere and be thankful. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
–Jim Van Yperen
2 Corinthians 12:9