Crucial Conversations For The Self-Differentiated Leader

Congratulations to me! I am the new track coach. I’m also the new cross country coach. What are the characteristics that I need in order to be a self differentiated leader?

Philippians 4:6- “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” NKJV

In his book a Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman mentions that one of the problems with leadership is distress caused by chronic anxiety. He argues that change has less to do with right techniques,  but more with understanding the emotional factors that are at work within organizations. He continues to argue that leaders should not be anxious that they should stand for what is true and good. How does effective leadership and the emotional process of regulating one’s own anxiety help leaders?  As a head coach, I have to know who I am.  I have to lead with integrity and I have to be calm. I must have to have a strong sense of self, which is a strong sense of my identity.  If I am going to lead an organization, and not just coach, I  definitely have to have a strong sense of vision.  I need to work on the belief that coaching is my calling.  In fact, my perspective has to change.  It is not coaching the specific sport that is my calling, it is the opportunity to shape young men and women that is my calling.  Finally, I need to know my strengths and weaknesses.  As you consider what Friedman was talking about in his book, I think the scripture referenced above fits right in to Friedman’s beliefs. 

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Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” NKJV

Joshua was taking over for the greatest leader that Israel had known up to that point, Moses. Joshua’s organization would have been full fear and chronic anxiety.  God commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous, not fearful and not confused. When dealing with leadership, Friedman points out the same characteristics that can be found in this passage.  A self differentiated leader should be strong,  they should be courageous, and they should have a clear vision.  These attributes prevent confusion or anxiety in an organization.

What Is a Crucial Conversation?

This year that I have been involved in more and more crucial conversations. What is the cause of this crucial conversation involvement? Well, I am a leader.  Whether I am at home, work or doing other activities, I am a leader.  As well, I am living in a time crunch. I’ve noticed that some of my conversations are increasingly becoming filled with stress and anxiety because of long nights of studying, the pressures of coaching, lack of sleep or being hungry.   

I really need to take the time to consider some ideas when it comes to dealing with crucial conversations.  As a leader I can avoid crucial conversations or I can make sure that I don’t handle the conversations poorly. 

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Let me take a moment and walk through a real conversation that I recently had with an athlete on my team who is chronically late to practice.  I have to “start with the heart”.  I need to think about what is at stake not only for me but for the athlete as well.  What is at stake is their ability to run at the meet.  My desired result is that they come to practice on time so that they can get better.  I have to, “learn to look.”  As we are talking I need to consider if I am being defensive or not. I need to “master my story.”  I need to tell myself that it is possible that my thoughts about the athlete “testing me” might be wrong. Interestingly enough, I have take the steps out of order from the book.  Here’s why, if I don’t master my story first, I won’t care to make it safe for the athlete. We’ve all seen this, it looks like, “IF YOU DON”T LIKE IT, GO HOME!!”   From here I can “state my path”.   “You know that the rule for being late is that you’re not going to be able to run in the meet.”   After I’ve stated my path I can ask the athlete “why?” I can also ask them what they are thinking or what is causing them to be late. At this stage of the game I have to have empathy, or I can move to action.  Taking action is not bad unless you do it before taking these steps to help insure that you are not acting out of emotions.

Why Do These Two Ideas Need to Mesh?

Why pair crucial conversations with a self differentiated leader?  The answer is very simple.  In Failure of Nerve, Friedman’s topic is decisive leadership.   Two of his leadership qualities, are that a leader should be HEAD STRONG AND RUTHLESS. According to Freidman, being ruthless is more important than team building and camaraderie.  If you are headstrong and ruthless, nobody in your organization will perform for you.  As a self differentiated leader have to be able to communicate well with others.  To do this, the lessons found in Crucial Conversations will be helpful.  If you’re not careful you can grow callous and other people will see that and they will not work for you, You have to know how to talk to people.

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Callibrain. (2015, August 20). Video Review for Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson. Retrieved from

Camp, J. [Mathew David Bardwell]. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple [Video file]. Retrieved from

Friedman, E. H., Treadwell, M. M., & Beal, E. W. (2017). A failure of nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. Church Publishing.

Kerry Patterson. Joseph Grenny. Ron McMillan. Al Switzler. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high, second edition. McGraw-Hill.