Thursday, January 16, 2014

10 Leadership Quotes from Edwin Friedman

Few have helped re-frame the understanding of leadership in organizations within this generation as has Edwin Friedman. Expanding Bowen Family Systems Theory from its clinical therapeutic context to the contexts of religious institutions and organizations, Friedman's writings have offered a new frame of reference for what it means to be a leader. A brilliant mind, sharp wit, and occasional curmudgeon, Friedman is often as insightful as he is subversive. Below are ten quotes on leadership from his writings worth pondering. 

1. “The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.”

2. "Leadership can be thought of as a capacity to define oneself to others in a way that clarifies and expands a vision of the future."

3. "The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change."

4. "In any type of institution whatsoever, when a self-directed, imaginative, energetic, or creative member is being consistently frustrated and sabotaged rather than encouraged and supported, what will turn out to be true one hundred percent of the time, regardless of whether the disrupters are supervisors, subordinates, or peers, is that the person at the very top of that institution is a peace-monger."

5. Leaders need "... to focus first on their own integrity and on the nature of their own presence rather than through techniques for manipulating or motivating others."

6. "Sabotage . . . comes with the territory of leading.... And a leader's capacity to recognize sabotage for what it is---that is, a systemic phenomenon connected to the shifting balances in the emotional processes of a relationship system and not to the institution's specific issues, makeup, or goals---is the key to the kingdom."

7. "...leadership is essentially an emotional process rather than a cognitive phenomenon..."

8. "...'no good deed goes unpunished'; chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leader is functioning better! Vision is not enough."

9. "Living with crisis is a major part of leaders' lives. The crises come in two major varieties: (1) those that are not of their making but are imposed on them from outside or within the system; and (2) those that are actually triggered by the leaders through doing precisely what they should be doing."

10. "..the risk-averse are rarely emboldened by data."

Sources: A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Seabury Books, 2007); Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (The Guilford Press, 1985).

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Ministry (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan. Galindo also contributes to the Wabash Center's blog for theological school deans.


  1. Hi admin,
    your post is very special for us.I think quotes are very special for everyday life. I have collected many quotes from you, and I will come back soon. It's encourage to work everyday life.So thanks a lot for doing this job

  2. Al Leadership Quotes makes me happy. I collect all of them and more from google. Since lead vision need this and make new leader every time so lead provide this to new leader.