Self-differentiated Leadership

Self-differentiated Leadership

Reading “A Failure of Nerve” made me realize that a lot of the concepts I believe in are the very things that allow anxiety and chaos to take hold. I love Friedman’s comparisons between single cells and how they self-differentiate to people in an organization, or even a nation. His analogies between the immune system as a leader vs.  a virus or cancer cell and a trouble-making co-worker are genius. He explains in the book his perception of America, despite its technological advances, as being more like Old World Europe than the Renaissance; this is due to a chronic anxiety that has infected our nation. He emphasizes the importance of focusing on responsibility instead of empathy and rewarding strength over weakness. There are several things I need to work on if I want to emerge as a self-differentiated leader.

Friedman explains that, “…the crucial issue of leadership in democratic societies may not be how much power they exercise but how well their presence is able to preserve that society’s integrity” (Friedman, 2007, pg. 17). He describes this presence as a sense of self that he elaborates on throughout the book. As a self-differentiated leader, I will need to stop putting so much emphasis on motivating others, and instead work on myself to cultivate a “presence”. This idea of focusing on the self is almost counter-intuitive to me because I’ve been raised to think of others first. My trade as a dental hygienist focuses on service to others, so it seems that he is saying to be selfish, a word with a very negative connotation. That is not what he means at all. In chapter five, he discusses the fallacies of “self”, breaking down the meaning and explaining it as actually conducive to togetherness.

In my journey to becoming a self-differentiated leader, I will need to address my preference for “peace over progress”. I tend to avoid conflict. I use empathy to try to connect with others, but this ideology is debunked with Friedman’s explanation of what happens when we empathize rather than cultivate responsibility. Empathy is a symptom of the herding force of a chronically anxious society. I like the analogy of the organ cells that start to empathize with the rogue cancer cell, “we were watching it swim all alone out there. It just seemed so lonely, and well- we just started to feel sorry for it.” (Friedman, 2007, pg. 151). This reminds me of the terrorism that has resulted after refugees have been allowed to enter European countries recently. I’m not saying that all refugees are trouble, but when we have empathy for trouble-makers, it can have disastrous consequences. Look at the recent attacks in France. If Friedman were alive today, he would probably nod his head and think, “I could have predicted this…”

A self-differentiated leader is able to manage his own anxiety. I cannot allow myself to get caught up in the emotional triangles that form at work. It can be tempting to join the group as they are complaining and venting about management or changes in the company. I can achieve a balance between individuality and togetherness by setting boundaries and not allowing others’ problems to influence how I feel.

I think the most difficult thing for me is the idea of being able to take stands at the risk of displeasing (Friedman, 2007, pg. 14). Avoiding conflict is woven into my nature and I will need to work hard to change that. I think it begins with a strong direction and having clarity in regards to goals and aspirations. The scary part is bracing for sabotage, but at least I know that it means I am on the right track!

My plan for increasing collaboration between hygienists and other healthcare providers is a change that will affect our entire department. I believe that nearly everyone will like the “big picture” idea, but will likely resist some of the changes necessary because it will mean extra work for them and they are already bombarded with a whirlwind or two. I will begin with clear goals, as stated in my “Why” assignment. My Influencer Strategy will help overcome emotional hurdles by using personal, social, and structural motivation. The second part is making tools available to give the instructors the ability to implement the changes. For some instructors, the idea of blended learning and iPad use will be foreign and scary to them. I want to emphasize that the technology is never the focus of the plan; it is a tool to achieve our goals. The 4DX Plan will help execute the steps to achieve our goal and keep it alive amidst the whirlwinds of work and daily life that always steal our immediate attention. I need to remember that the WIG will take on new forms as we collaborate as a team. The ideas need to be ours, not just mine. Otherwise, there will be no cadence of accountability and no progress.

Following are the links to my plan: the “Why”, my Influencer Strategy, and 4DX.


Friedman, E. H. (2007). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. Church Publishing, Inc. ISBN B009VHSBYK

Author: CruzN

I'm a Curriculum Specialist, Dental Hygienist, and Goldendoodle breeder. I want to share my passions with others so we can collaborate. I have an A.S. and a B.S. in Dental Hygiene, and a Master's in Education with a focus on Digital Learning. I have a passion for Goldendoodles, and have taken courses in breeding and genetics through AKC. I'm also a member of GANA. I have an amazing husband and three kids: Matt, Chloe, and Silas. I also have 3 dogs and a cat. Definitely a full house! When I'm not editing curriculum or fighting plaque and gingivitis, I like to hang out with friends and family (a little BBQ here and there), garden, play with the kiddos and my dogs, travel, and remodel our house (a never-ending project!). Most of all, I love to learn and share ideas. Thanks for stopping by!

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