Crucial Conversations and Steps to Becoming a Self-Differentiated Leader with Purpose

What does it take be a successful leader and innovator? Leadership can be considered a craft built on skills that must be developed and honed over time. Communication is one of those many key skills. Throughout this class session, Leading Organizational Change, in my Digital Learning and Leading Master’s program at Lamar University, I have learned that effective leadership requires one to regulate their anxiety and emotions. With emotions in check, developing quality communication and having the bravery to keep the team on track become more attainable skills.

In A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Rabbi Edwin Friedman suggests that more than a set of skills, leadership is an emotional process of regulating one’s own anxiety. I have been fortunate in my career to have stellar role models as leaders. On many occasions, I have observed as they diplomatically held their ground, shared difficult news to large groups and supported groups through challenging situations and transitions. I found myself wondering how they managed these events, seemingly unflappable. They managed by keeping their anxieties regulated.

In the video Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership, Dr. Johnathan Camp further explains that some people in organizations are poorly differentiated and act like viruses, infecting the organization with their anxieties. With gossip and sabotage, they can create triangles and more anxiety for others, leading to stress and burnout.

A well-differentiated leader is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about.

Edwin Friedman

The differentiated leader that is non-anxious is like an emotional immune system in an organization that is chronically anxious. This type of leader eventually brings calm to the organization, after some disruption to the way things have always been.

As I grow in my Digital Learning & Leading journey, it is becoming clear to me that while I possess the people skills of being approachable and having empathy, I have work to do in the areas of honest, clear communication and regulating my anxieties. If I aim to lead, change and innovate, I must have the bravery to risk that some people in the organization may be displeased. For the good of the group, and the innovation, that will sometimes be the case.

Having the ability as a self differentiated leader to regulate my emotions and anxieties will serve me well when the need to have crucial conversations arises.


Leaders frequently have the need to engage in some Crucial Conversations. Examples of crucial conversations in the workplace are:

  • introducing an innovation or change
  • setting a boundary with a colleague or subordinate
  • leading a group through a difficult transition or situation

In order to achieve my wildly important goal of facilitating the transformation of our school district libraries into bustling learning hubs, I will absolutely engage in some crucial conversations! Fortunately, I am equipped with the strategies outlined in Grenny & Patterson’s 2012 guidebook for successfully using conversation to drive positive organizational performance, Crucial Conversations. Some crucial conversations that I need to have to achieve the results I want are:

  • developing common goals with my equal colleague about how to drive the library transformation
  • developing common goals with the lead librarians about how to drive the library transformation
  • sharing the library transformation vision with our Chief Learning Officials and Assistant Superintendent – This will be particularly challenging when the time comes to discuss budgets
  • introducing our vision with all of the librarians

It is important to have a strategy to deal with conversations that may have high stakes, strong emotions and differing opinions in order to be prepared. When conversations become difficult and feel confrontational or unsafe, we can go into fight or flight mode. Our amygdala gets hijacked, making it difficult to process our ideas, and calmly share coherent thoughts, according to Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence.


There are 8 elements of the Crucial Conversations Model that compose the BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER phases of crucial conversations. The slides below describe the elements and how they might arise in my work environment to support my wildly important goal.

In the past five weeks, I have had an opportunity to explore and build some solid steps to address the inevitable resistance to change that will occur when attempting to transform our district libraries into innovative bustling learning hubs, teeming with digital learning opportunities for students and staff.

It will require courage and persistence, as well as some give and take by all of the stakeholders. However, I am confident that with my plan outlined below, our staff and students will reap the benefits of the innovation of transforming our libraries.

As mentioned previously in this post, having the bravery to calmly take the steps to participate in the crucial conversations to propel the library transformation, will lead to ultimate success.

Ultimately, what will make the difference in being able to hold the crucial conversations, execute and measure the goals, and address the vital behaviors will be my ability to courageously step forward while regulating my anxieties. Becoming a confident differentiated leader is my key to success.


References:

  • Camp, J. [Mathew David Bardwell]. (2010, November 10). Friedman’s theory of differentiated leadership made simple [Video file]. Retrieved from
  • Covey, S., McChesney, C., & Huling, J. (2012). 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. S.l.: Simon & Schuster.
  • Friedman’s Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple. (2010). YouTube. https://youtu.be/RgdcljNV-Ew.
  • Friedman, E. H., Treadwell, M. M., & Beal, E. W. (2017). A failure of nerve: leadership in the age of the quick fix. Church Publishing.
  • Goleman, D. (2020). Emotional intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than Iq (10th ed.). Bantam Books.
  • Grenny, J., McMillan, R., Patterson, K., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations tools for talking when stakes are high. McGraw-Hill.
  • Grenny, J., & Patterson, K. (2013). Influencer: The science of leading change. New York: McGraw-Hill Professional. 

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