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Change through self-differentiated leadership!

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Friedman's theory of being a self-differentiated leader finally put words to my observations at my workplace. I have a leader that sits in between the faculty and the administrators for our organization. The entire team trusts her and it is for this very reason. We know that she won't be shaken or emotional when it comes to difficult decisions and transitions. I would most certainly call her a self-differentiated leader. When administration passes down new charges that the faculty don't necessarily agree with, she has the ability to stay calm in the storm. The triangulation doesn't typically happen when she is the intermediary because she is able to communicate in a way that keeps us all in check. She may not always agree with the charge, but she is able to communicate to us the insight we need to still be productive and compliant. It is like a super power. We rely on her so much to set the tone that on the rare occasion that she doesn't exhibit this type of control of her emotions we typically panic. In the 20 years I have worked with her, I have only seen her lose her cool 2 times and even in those times she was able to recover in a way that brought the team back on track. These 2 events were also helpful because we could see that sometimes you just need the choice to be calm and unshakeable, it is how you react not the circumstances that are dealt to you.

My opinion is most of the time the loudest voice is often the most uninformed or scared voice. Anger is the bodyguard of fear. People tend to sabotage when they are afraid they can't be successful. They don't want to look bad to their peers. Real leaders are visionaries and willing to take that first jump. They may be nervous but they know that no great reward comes without the risk. In order to lead people to success, someone has to be brave enough to withstand the potential fallout. They must be willing to hold people accountable when the strong opinions and emotions bear their head. Most employees don't like change and can often not necessarily see the outcome they only see the work involved getting to that "new and improved" place. When we work in a whirlwind already, seeing the forest for the trees can sometimes seem impossible. Why would we every willingly add work to an already difficult and challenging situation. Having a self-differentiated leader and someone who combats sabotage, a leader not afraid to ask the hard questions and have the crucial-conversations is probably one of the most important elements of change.

As I was reading Crucial Conversations, I was intrigued by how much it seemed like common sense; however, as I continued to read about the solutions when conversations go awry, I thought maybe not so much. Sometimes, it is a thin line between the wrong and the right. I think trying to take the emotion out of it serves everyone but that is not always possible. I like the idea of when you email, you write it twice. First, you write what you need, then you go back and add the piece that makes it more palatable. I usually consider myself an excellent communicator but I realized just how much better I could be after reading this book.

I think for my innovation project, being a self-differentiated, unshakeable leader will be the key to success. You need a leader that can keep the group on task by remaining the slow, steady ship in the storm in the most important element. Someone who doesn't become infected by a nay-sayer of the group and can work through the high emotion using the strategies put forth in Crucial Conversations.


Bardwell, M. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership made simple. Youtube. Retrieved April 20, 2023, from v=RgdcljNV-Ew

Grenny, J., Patterson, K., McMillan, R., Switzler, A., & Gregory, E. (2021). Crucial conversations (2nd). McGraw-Hill Education.

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