Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple

Dr. Jonathan Camp discusses the book A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman, who owes many of his ideas of leadership to Murray Bowen (1913-1990), a pioneer of family therapy. Central to Bowen’s family systems theory is the concept of differentiation, or the ability of a person to maintain a strong sense of “self” within the family. The anxious family system is composed of emotional triangles, in which two conflicting members try to diffuse the anxiety between them by bringing in a third member. But this only heightens the anxiety of the system. A well-differentiated person is able to resist the lure of emotional triangles, which causes the family system to mature by influencing others to take responsibility for themselves. In A Failure of Nerve, Friedman applies Bowen’s family systems theory to organizational leadership.