Edwin Friedman

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Edwin Friedman

Edwin Howard Friedman (May 17, 1932[1] – October 31, 1996[2]) was an ordained Jewish Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant.[3] He was born in New York City and worked for more than 35 years in the Washington DC area where he founded the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.[4] His primary areas of work were in family therapy, congregational leadership (both Christian and Jewish), and leadership more generally.


Friedman's approach was primarily shaped by an understanding of family systems theory. His seminal work Generation to Generation, written for the leaders of religious congregations, focused on leaders developing three main areas of themselves:

  • Being self differentiated
  • Being non-anxious
  • Being present with those one is leading


Building on his work, Generation to Generation, Friedman's family and friends published A Failure of Nerve--leadership in the age of the quick fix finishing Friedman's work on his understanding of leaders as "self-differentiated or well-differentiated."

Friedman illustrates good “self-differentiated” leadership to that present in the great Renaissance explorers, where leaders had:

  • the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes
  • the capacity to obtain clarity about one’s principles and vision
  • the willingness to be exposed and be vulnerable
  • the persistence to face inertial resistance
  • the self-regulation of emotions in the face of reactive sabotage.

Two concepts are critical in Friedman’s model: self-knowledge and self-control. Friedman attacks what he calls the failure of nerve in leaders who are “highly anxious risk-avoiders,” more concerned with good feelings than with progress–one whose life revolves around the axis of consensus. By self-differentiation, the leader maintains his/her integrity (a non-anxious self as opposed to an anxious non-self) and thus promotes “the integrity or prevents the dis-integr-ation of the system he or she is leading."

In other places, Friedman argues that the well-differentiated leader:


  • Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford Press, 1985) ISBN 978-1-60918-236-6
  • Friedman's Fables (New York: Guildford Press, 1990) ISBN 978-0-89862-440-3
  • A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Seabury, 1997) - posthumous ISBN 978-1-59627-042-8
  • The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays (New York: Seabury, 2008) ISBN 978-1-59627-077-0
  • What Are You Going to Do with Your Life? Unpublished Writings and Diaries (New York: Seabury, 2009) ISBN 978-1-59627-114-2


  • Reinventing Leadership (New York: Guilford, 2007)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Edwin H Friedman, 31 Oct 1996", United States Social Security Death Index, FamilySearch, retrieved 12-08-2014; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File database, Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing.
  2. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (11-17-1996), "Edwin Friedman, 64; Led Workshops On Leadership",The New York Times, retrieved 12-08-2014.
  3. ^ The Edwin Friedman Model of Family Systems Thinking
  4. ^ Edwin Friedman Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York: Guilford Press, 1985)