Being an Emotionally Differentiated Leader

Many leaders, particularly entrepreneurs, become their idea or organization. Their advocacy and effort becomes their identity. Dedication is noble though many leaders become enmeshed or infused to a point where their emotional health is dictated by the success of their work.


This past Saturday, I gave the opening talk at the Innove semi-finalist retreat where social entrepreneurs were preparing to present their ideas as candidates to receive significant funding from Colonial Church in Edina, MN. The work of these entrepreneurs is making a powerful impact in our community and the world. I spoke about my own entrepreneurial journey and how our organization is always with me. It’s on my phone, in my prayers, on my mind and in my heart. The work ethic and passion surrounding this identity can be helpful to the organization. But too often I admit to being organizationally absorbed and emotionally tethered.

The late pioneer of family-systems psychology, Murray Bowan, described the ability to be in relationship with others while remaining emotionally separate from them “differentiation”. Being a differentiated leader simultaneously improves our emotional health while maximizing the impact and influence we have on others. To remain differentiated, we need to lead others by what I call, “Agapic Influencing”. “Agape”, one of the Greek words for “love”, describes a selfless love that is passionately committed to the well-being of another, without conditions or expectations. Let’s look at the two elements of this approach:

1.  Deeply care for other people. In the new best-seller “To Sell Is Human” Daniel Pink names the new A-B-Cs of selling where A is “Attunement” – our ability to sincerely see the world through the head and heart of another and to offer ourselves in their service. Pink says that this requires us to slow down, listen and connect. The old adage goes, “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.” Genuine interest and concern for others leads to influence.

2.  Remain differentiated in the face of rejection. This year during Lent (the preparation period before Easter), I have been reading and re-reading the 19th chapter of the book of John in the Bible, and have been struck by the incredible example Jesus provides in being a differentiated leader, as well as an “agapic influencer”, even in the face of rejection. When many, including the leaders of the church and community, reject and condemn him, you’d think he might react with dejection and resentment. Instead, He remains focused on the mission, not on others’ response, while being secure in His identity and unwavering in His purpose. I want to react in a similar way when my efforts are unappreciated and rejected.

Please comment on how Agapic Influencing could apply to your work as a leader.



You may also like