An Ever-Learning, Always-Moving, Sustainable Tortoise
The term “smithing” indicates a process whereby a material is shaped, molded, formed, and improved over time. This is exactly the idea behind Eve Poole’s book entitled, Leadersmithing, Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. In her opinion, strong leaders are shaped, molded, formed and improved over time, growing into their potential as stronger and more effective leaders.
This shaping process, for Poole, comes through an apprenticeship-like model, in which leaders test, prove, and develop their skills and virtues. The first part of the book presents an overview of the apprentice approach to leadership development. The second part of the book, using the metaphor of a deck of cards, examines some basic ideas that leaders need to “be able to use with elegance and ease” and apply to various scenarios one encounters as a leader. Poole groups these key ideas into Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs, and Spades. Diamonds represent areas of sharpness, such as your strengths, mood, composure, and hope. Clubs look at your physical impact, like work-life balance, sleep, power, and posture. Spades are practical tools for getting things done through others, for example, having difficult conversations, public speaking, and working the room. Hearts represent the social skills of creating environments in which other people feel at ease and include areas such as manners, trust, eye-contact, and storytelling. Eve Poole’s book is a combination of research and practical exercises which help people to practice and develop leadership skills in advance, as well as on the job, so as to minimize mistakes and growing pains and to maximize the effectiveness of the organization.
Personal Story and Application
Since beginning our DLGP studies this year, I have been inspired by the practical leadership information we have received through our various readings and have sought to apply some of our new learnings to my workplace. With Poole’s book, I now have 52 new skills on which to focus, one for each week of the year, as Poole points out. I could have used some of these lessons long ago!
I walked into my current job through the backdoor entrance twelve years ago. I had heard of the Second Home program and wanted to be a part of their work providing housing for unaccompanied teens. When I approached the director about hiring me, she said they didn’t have the money to create a new position. She was the sole program employee at the time. Hearing of this hurdle, I applied for a grant through my church, secured the funding, and then went back to the Second Home director with the new money; and she hired me. After she agreed to hire me, I did the official interview for the position, wrote my resume, and filled out the job application, in that order. It seemed a bit backwards, but it proved that there really is no perfect formula for landing a job.
Two years after working for Second Home, my director lost her job and the sponsoring organization asked if I felt comfortable leading the program. I said I would give it a try. Thus, began a leadership journey of trial, error, successes, failures, and growth.
My strategy became prayer, building relationships, teamwork, and valuing each person inside and outside the organization. I observed the president of our larger agency at the time and decided against imitating his style. I witnessed manager meetings in which people expressed tears of frustration, because they did not have the training, tools, nor the staffing to do their job effectively. I also experienced an organizational leadership transition in which a new president was hired who led calmly out of a gentle core. She made program adjustments that eased the burden on the directors and created a culture of respect and hope. With new leadership at the top, I felt freedom to lead out of my strengths, as opposed to following a formula that depleted energy and enthusiasm. As managers and directors, we still lacked specific leadership training, but the positive work environment created space to take risks, grace to fail, and the confidence needed to operate from an undefended posture.
My journey to date has been one of growth, but I wish I had had more guidance. Particularly, an area of struggle for me as my team has grown, has been to nip problematic individual behaviors in the bud. My lack of ability to do this has caused stress for myself and the team. I could have benefited earlier from Friedman’s advice to not give most of my energy and attention to teammates with destructive work and relational habits. I could have also benefited from Poole’s wisdom, in which she suggests practicing difficult conversations with colleagues and improving your skills in this area. She refers to” difficult conversations” as the “Ace of Spades, adding, “Of all the skills we have met, this is the one to nail. That is why it is an ace. It is the ultimate apprentice piece. If you can have any conversation you need to and in the right way, most challenges you face will simply melt away.”
In avoiding challenging conversations over time, I experienced stress and increased feelings of burnout, resentment and overwhelm. Eventually, I mustered the courage to confront my teammate. Things have gone better ever since. I could have used some tangible wisdom earlier, but I am realizing that leadership is a process of honing skills over time. I am thankful to God for the chance to learn and grow. I am especially grateful for what feels like an accelerated growth pace, at the moment. With my new learning has come a more relaxed approach to offering leadership to my team and surprisingly, I am feeling less burned out.
Overall, I feel optimistic, better equipped, capable, and affirmed in my leadership approach. Poole closes her book with this statement: “Leadersmithing takes a lifetime – so be a tortoise, not a hare.” Likewise, John Maxwell in the introduction of his Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition of The Twenty-One Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, notes, “Whether you are in your teens leading others in student government or sports, or you are in your seventies like I am making a difference in your later years, you can always improve.” I find it encouraging that there is always room to grow. In this endeavor and for the long-haul, I am committed to being an ever-learning, always moving, sustainable tortoise.
 Eve Poole, Leadersmithing, Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Business, 2017), 55,73.
 Poole, 73.
 Poole, 74-75.
 Poole, xii.
 Poole, 73.
 Simon P. Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership, (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions, 2007).
 Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017), 145-146.
 Poole, 127.
 Poole, 181.
 John C. Maxwell, The Twenty-One Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition, (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2022), xix.
8 responses to “An Ever-Learning, Always-Moving, Sustainable Tortoise”
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Jenny – Thank you for this insight into your current role and the journey you’ve walked to get where you are. I love the idea of doing one of the leadership exercises each week. Are you planning to go in order as they are listed in the book or do you have a different strategy?
Thanks so much for your comment. I am thinking that I might just go in order and see how the cards fall. Maybe there will be some divine line-ups of lessons I need to learn just as I arrive at that point in Poole’s list.
I’m hoping I can pull this off! Maybe I’ll start in January.
I applied for a grant through my church, secured the funding, and then went back to the Second Home director with the new money; and she hired me.
I am curious how the Lord was leading you to make this bold move? There must have been a lot of discernment in this process. You wanted to work for this place! I love your courage to get funding for the position you wanted! Go girl!! You have guts!
I love how you draw out the tortoise example! So good.
I have a great resource for you! I will text this to you (a picture of the book) The book is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Patterson and Grenny
Hi Kristy, Thanks for your comments and question! In response to your question, think I really wanted to work for this program and so saw this as a fun challenge to see if I could get the grant. It seemed like such a good fit for me and I really felt like God had brought me to this door, so I was hoping God would continue to lead the way through the doorway.
Thank you for the book suggestion! That is awesome. I’m thankful for all I learn from you and from the others in our cohort.
Jenny, thank you for sharing. I am so impressed with how you got your position. What a creative solution! I remember you sharing about talking to your teammate and I am glad to hear that things are going better. How might have you approached that conversation differently in light of what you have learned from Poole and how might you approach future conversations?
Hi Becca, Thanks so much for your comments and questions! I actually had the hard conversation over a year ago with my colleague. The more recent conversation with my colleague was the same person, but it was the only difficult conflict we have had this year, so that seems like improvement. One thing that Eve Poole said that I really want to take to heart, is that she suggested getting into good feedback habits, so that you can identify and address problem areas sooner than later. I am definitely trying to do this now. Also, one thing I would have done differently a year ago regarding these hard conversations is to practice ahead of time and have in my mind the most important points I wanted to make. Then, hopefully, those words would come out more smoothly and confidently, as well as thoughtfully and sensitively.
I appreciate your questions and the chance to learn together!
I am with you as I really don’t like having hard conversations and when in leadership roles those are inevitable. I love how you have shown how the application of the tools in this book have promise and how as leaders we can still learn, grow, develop better skills, and overcome barriers. I think your title is key be willing to stick to the process and take each step and learn each lesson along the way even if you move slowly.
Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. I like the idea that we can take this process slowly and if we keep at it, down the road we will have seen much progress and growth!
Hope you are doing well tonight. We will be crossing a mile marker so soon!