…if a leader could learn to be a well-differentiated presence, by the very nature of his or her being he or she could promote differentiation and support creative imagination throughout the system…not by focusing on techniques for moving others, but by focusing on the nature of his or her own being and presence.
Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve.
Differentiation has wound itself through the strands of my life, academic, professional, spiritual. Lately I’ve become aware of how important it is that leaders are able to define themselves apart from the people around them, whilst still remaining relationally connected.
Over the last year, I have been battling towards greater self-differentiation in all areas of my life. I’ve also seen the sabotage which Friedman claims comes along with any success in this area. For as leaders become more self-differentiated, the system with which they had been co-dependent begins to react against these newly-defined boundaries of the self.
Yet there is also a place beyond the sabotage, a place of clarity and rootedness. I’ve tasted it, though by no means walked in it fully. And in those relational systems where I’ve done better at defining myself, though I may not be a leader there I find that people are expressing a desire to follow me.
With that, of course, comes another challenge. For inevitably what they want to follow is their construct of me. Me as they think I am, a me invariably more impressive than I actually am. And this itself comes as potential sabotage, however well-meaning, for its gentle pull in the direction even one degree away from true north will prove catastrophic.
I’m fortunate to have people around me who see this dynamic, who will hold me to my commitment to pursue emotional wholeness. I’m thankful that there are those who discern truly with me the unique call of the one in whom my identity rests, who have a sense of the bounds and contours of the voice he is giving me, who believe in me more than I do yet without being blinded by some construct of what they think I am.
And though this is the hardest leadership work I have ever undertaken, a work which is weakening my need to lead yet paradoxically strengthening my capacity to lead, I wouldn’t change it. Given recent weeks when I’ve wanted to renege on a promise I made to God in May, when I’ve believed that I absolutely would not choose this course again, it seems impossible that I’d keep choosing it. But one of those who sees and holds and discerns tells me ‘[my] heart would not seriously consider other’. And I’m grudgingly accepting that maybe she is right.
What about you? Where are you with this pursuit of Jesus by which the movement deeper into union with him also issues in a more fully differentiated self? Who are the people in your life who will see and hold and discern? And how could the people around you be blessed by your greater clarity about who he is calling you to be?