Dr. David Cox: Lessons for Organizational Leaders

Dr. David Cox is Emeritus Professor of Educational Leadership (1992-2014) at Arkansas State University.  We connected with him in 2012 and spoke to one of his classes through audio hook up.  Dr. Cox is deeply interested in Edwin Friedman’s work and the connection Healing Leaders explored between Friedman’s thinking and contemporary leadership. This post, and some following, contains parts of Cox’s paper, The Edwin Friedman Model of Family Systems Thinking: Lessons for Organizational Leaders:

“Because an organization is a living system, leaders and followers are intimately connected through an emotional field they have created – with positive or negative effects on the health of the organization. Followers do not have to observe a leader directly, or even be in some direct “chain of command” hierarchy, in order to be affected, positively or negatively, by the leader’s functioning (Friedman, 1996a, 1996b, 1999). Wherever the head goes, the body will follow (Friedman, 1985). If the leader (i.e., head) of an organization clearly defines the direction the leader is going AND if the leader stays connected to the members of the organization, the members will follow the leader’s direction. This cause-effect happening will be automatic.

Conversely, a leader needs to be aware that change cannot be brought about in an organization without disturbing the homeostasis. Tremendous energy is needed to tip a system out of equilibrium. And, even if the system can be disturbed significantly to bring about change, what may unintentionally be triggered is that a symptom (e.g., personal problem, relationship strain, health of a member, dysfunctional behavior of a member) may simply relocate to a new location in the organization.

An organization’s members are interlocked in a system of swirling, emotional processes; an emotional field much like a magnetic field. (Wheatley, 1999) The field theory model of leadership emphasizes the effect of a leader’s differentiated presence on the emotional processes in the system, the extent that leaders express themselves to others and distinguish between themselves and the people around them.”

Future posts contain more parts of Cox’s excellent takes on leadership as an emotional process.



Leave a Reply