The Power of Your Differentiated Presence

By Jim LaDoux
Director of Coaching & Coaching School

As ministry leaders it’s who we are—not what we accomplish, but our core presence—that is our chief tool for influencing others with redemptive impact. It’s not our ideas, strategies, training, connections, abilities, or resources. It’s the influence of our presence. Author, rabbi, and consultant Edwin Friedman, in his masterwork on leadership A Failure of Nerve, calls this dynamic “bringing our non-anxious presence” into every situation. Whatever is at the orbital center of our soul will change and influence the dynamic of every relational system we enter. 

Our words are not game-changers for people, but our catalytic presence is. Therefore, whatever is driving our catalytic presence is paramount.

I’ve read A Failure of Nerve several times, and each experience is a new iteration of wonder, challenge, and growth. Here I’ve listed 10 takeaways from the book, along with companion diagnostic questions that will help you grapple with Friedman’s ideas…

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

  • What are some indicators of a person’s willingness to change?
  • What are some typical tactics people employ to suggest that they’re willing to change?

2 | A major criterion for judging the anxiety level of any society is the loss of its capacity to be playful.

  • How often to people laugh, share a joke, or act playful at current church meetings? 
  • What other approaches do you use to lessen people’s anxiety?
  • How are playfulness and creativity related?

3 | When you accept the mantle of leadership, expect there to be slings and arrows.

  • Why are leaders often surprised by others’ resistance to ideas or new approaches? 
  • What types of guidelines or rules are helpful to have in place before having consequential conversations? 
  • How do you prepare yourself to be the receiver of people’s slings and arrows?

4 | The grass is only greener when you’re not caring for your own lawn.

  • What would “caring for your own lawn” look like in your own setting?
  • How do you help people see “what is” and “what’s present” rather than what’s missing? 
  • How do you help people focus on what they can do rather than belabor what they can’t do?

5 | Stay connected, while changing yourself rather than trying to fix others.

  • What is your default mode when responding to people who react out of anxiety?
  • What are some strategies you employ for being a less-anxious presence in the midst of others’ anxiety? 
  • How do you stay close and engaged with people who are difficult to deal with?

6 | The pursuit of data is addicting. Collecting more data allows people to delay decisions.

  • How do you know when enough information is enough?
  • How do you know if you’ve gathered the right information from the right sources?
  • How do you help people make informed decisions without having all the facts on hand?

7 | One of the major limitations of exercising our imagination is the fear of standing out.

  • When’s the last time you stuck your neck out, took a stand, or suggested a new way forward? What happened when you did?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if others challenged your motives, decision-making, or new ideas? How would the “worst” impact you?
  • What would leading by proposal look like for you? What proposals would you invite others to consider?

8 | Striving or achieving success as a leader doesn’t come without pain or loss.

  • What kind of support systems do you have in place to weather the challenges of being a leader? 
  • Who are your mentors and roles models? Who else helps you be a person of influence?

9 | Quick fixes prevent leaders from doing the hard work that’s necessary to create new realities.

  • What’s the difference between technical and adaptive changes?
  • What shifts in people’s actions, attitudes, assumptions, and approaches help facilitate adaptive change? 
  • What are you doing now, or could do in the future, to develop adaptive leaders?

10 | Concentrate on helping leaders to become better defined and to deal adroitly with “sabotage” efforts toward their leadership.

  • What have you done to help your leaders become better defined in their God-given identity?
  • What are your top three leadership truths? 
  • What grounds you as a spiritual leader? 
  • What role has uncertainty played in your development as a self-differentiated leader?
  • What is your next faithful step in becoming a more self-differentiated leader?

Jim LaDoux is the longtime Director of Coaching & Coaching School for Vibrant Faith. Jim lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife—he has two adult sons. He’s been a coach since 1992, and has a Master of Management Arts and is a certified PCC (Professional Certified Coach).

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