• Janelle Safford

Self-differentiated leadership & Crucial Conversations


Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership (Friedman, 2007) really hit home with me because it addresses, what I now see is, one of my greatest weaknesses. I am a very passionate person. I latch onto my beliefs and tend to wear blinders to anything that gets in the way of those beliefs which means I am probably not a well developed self-differentiated leader. However, this book has opened my eyes to that fact which is a step in the right direction. I plan to approach certain situations with a non-anxious presence and will also try to not react to the anxiety of others. I recognize some of the situations mentioned in the book in my own workplace. I have seen and been a part of an emotional triangle. Sometimes we refer to this as “venting.” However, when “venting” turns into a trap that hinders a leader’s ability to stay calm and positive, the result is much like a virus that spreads to the rest of the organization. I think this is the reason it is so important to know your “why” and be able to stand by it. Having a strong conviction AND the ability to control emotional reactions is the idea behind being a self-differentiated leader. I now understand that accomplishing the goal is more important than my own emotional reactions and that overcoming those reactions requires self awareness and practice.

The book “Crucial Conversations” focuses on how to tackle conversations with people that have different opinions or ideas than you. These conversations are usually emotionally charged and have high stakes. It is important, again, that I evaluate my own emotions and reactions before entering into one of these crucial conversations. I must realize that how I communicate is often more important than what is being discussed. A few of the techniques suggested that I plan to personally work on are:

  1. Being open to other people’s perspectives and having authentic respect for them.

  2. Being mindful of the state of the conversation, recognize when it is breaking down and take measures to repair the conversation for the sake of the end result or goal.

  3. Controlling emotional responses by being confident, honest and having humility and soft skills necessary to navigate high stakes conversations.

These are all lofty goals and I am willing to improve myself, however, I also know that these changes will not come easy or happen overnight. I think that a certain amount of maturity and self awareness must be present for many of these techniques to work. Bringing blended learning to my conservative district will require me to use the methods discussed in both books. I think the situation will determine which approach I take, however, I now at least feel like I have a plan for how I will handle the inevitable resistance that all change brings about in any organization.


Friedman, E. H. (2007). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. New York,

NY: Church Publishing, Inc.

Patterson, Kerry. (Eds.) (2012) Crucial conversations :tools for talking when stakes are high

New York : McGraw-Hill


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