Describing effective leadership behavior based on systems theory principles, Friedman consistently addressed the concept of self-differentiation. Undifferentiated people struggle to separate thoughts and emotions. They have difficulty separating their own from other’s feelings. As a result, they look to the organizational system to define how they think about issues, interpret their experiences, and feel about themselves and others.
Differentiation is the process of freeing oneself from the system’s prescribed methods of defining people and reality. It means being able to have different opinions and values than your company or team members while, at the same time, staying emotionally connected to them. Being a differentiated leader means that you are neither emotionally fused or emotionally cut-off – you are able to connect with people but not condition your emotions based on their anticipated reactions. This allows you to step outside of the drama taking place in the organization, look at the situation objectively, and choose a course of action.
Differentiated leaders often portray a non-anxious versus an anxious presence. This is rooted in a deep understanding and acceptance of self – one’s own vision, ambitions, values, leadership style, strengths and shortcomings. This level of self-awareness creates a strong self-management capacity and the ability to develop a team with complementary skills. It allows leaders to be fully present with others and to learn from them. When anxiety builds in the system (i.e., due to drop in sales, loss of a key client or threat of new competition), differentiated leaders do not fuse with the anxiety. Instead, they make course corrections consistent with their vision of the future. They recognize the value in resistance from followers as course corrections take place and address underlying emotions, while at the same time communicating a vision that inspires others to contribute their best.