Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Can You Drive A Stick?

Written by: on February 15, 2024

It was early morning, hours before sunrise, when we realized we had forgotten a box of supplies in the office just a few miles away.    We were setting up for an outreach event a few miles from our church office, and Dawson, our newest and youngest team member, volunteered to drive back and get it.  I volunteered my car since the only other option was a van hooked up to the trailer we were still unloading. As I began to hand him my keys, I immediately paused and asked, “Can you drive a stick?”  He replied with a smirk, “Yeah… in theory.”  Prompting me to say, “Let me rephrase, have you ever driven a stick?” and without skipping a beat, he said, very self-assured, “No, but how hard could it be?”  Within a few minutes, I was in my car and returned to the office to grab our forgotten box.  

While I commend Dawson for his willingness to run back and grab the box, there is a HUGE difference between the theory of driving a car with a manual transmission and the ability to do so, as anyone who has learned to do will attest.

It is this distinction between theory and ability that Eve Poole, in her book Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, makes so clear. It is a book that is part theory and part practice and wholly relevant. 

There are a number of things that Poole has clarified for me that I will outline in this post.

First, she clarifies a leadership development process using the model of apprenticeship, which is typically found in many of the trades. One is not simply born with leadership ability but develops it.[1]  The term “Leadersmith” itself implies the forging and shaping with the elements of heat and hammer as one does metal. 

At an early age, I developed the idea that you were either naturally a leader by way of personality or disposition or you were not.   Because I had a more outgoing personality and developed many friendships quickly, teachers and coaches put me in leadership positions.  I can recall feeling ill-equipped and fearing failure, what I know now as imposture syndrome.  Understanding leadership as an ability to be developed demystifies and helps make it accessible for everyone, regardless of personality or disposition. 

Second, Poole has given clarity to the content of leadership development. What should we focus on to grow as a leader?  She avoids a “cookie cutter” solution by looking at universal experiences that can be approached from various places along a spectrum of leadership ability.  l  approaches by creating a strategy for growth in specific areas.  I appreciate the provision of a list of seventeen “Critical incidents,” or challenging situations, distilled from over a decade of empirical research, instruction, and observation. [2]  According to Poole, once mastered, these “Critical Incidents” will give one the necessary confidence for success as a leader.  

Finally, she has provided clarity with an actual training regimen for developing leadership ability with a proven learning methodology. She offers the approach of a simulation.  When I think of a simulator, I immediately think of an astronaut preparing to pilot a shuttle in space. Prior to trying to fly a shuttle for the first time upon lift-off, they train for thousands of hours in simulators. Similarly, she invites leaders to simulate these “Critical incidents” through exercises prior to experiencing the real thing.  

This particular part of the book has been immediately helpful in my current role as a senior pastor.   We are currently designing a pastoral residency in our local church for desiring to serve in full-time pastoral ministry.  The Leadersmithing concepts are now a part of our discussions for structure, scope, and sequence regarding the residency experience we hope to create.  Concepts such as apprenticing, “Critical Incidents,” and learning through simulation have reframed the way we approach this residency design project.       

While considering the idea of “Leadersmithing” this week, I found myself wondering what hinders most people from moving toward improvement.  I know my tendency towards complacency or laziness, but I think another primary factor exists.  Vulnerability. Moving from leadership theory to ability creates vulnerability.  Admitting shortcomings and growth edges, for many, means admitting weakness.   What if you are exposed? What if you lose something like comfort, security, or even identity?  In considering the hindrance of vulnerability, I was reminded of a statement made by Andy Crouch, a writer who explores faith, culture, and the image of God in the domains of technology, power, leadership, and the arts. He states: 

“The vulnerability that leads to flourishing requires risk, which is the possibility of loss, the chance that when we act, we will lose something we value. Risk, like life, is always about probabilities, never about certainties. To risk is to open ourselves up to the chance that something will go wrong, that something will be taken from us, without knowing for sure whether that loss will come to pass or not.”[3]

So, can you lead? You can definitely learn to. Just grab a deck of cards and start practicing.  Before long, it will be easier than driving a stick.


[1] Poole, Eve, Leadersmithing Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017), 2.

[2] Poole, Eve, Leadersmithing Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership,2.

[3]Crouch, Andy, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk, and True Flourishing (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 41.

About the Author

Chad Warren

A husband, father, pastor, teacher, and student seeking to help others flourish.

10 responses to “Can You Drive A Stick?”

  1. Diane Tuttle says:

    HI Chad, I like the analogy of driving a stick shift. Not many people wanted to drive my car when I had one.
    Your discussion of risk got me thinking. Sometimes it is important to heed the concerns, like when we taught our children not to run into a street. But sometimes, we need to take risks as you said in order to flourish. When or how do you know when a risk is worth taking?

  2. Jeff Styer says:

    I love driving a manual transmission. I learned how to drive while working at an Agricultural Research facility that is part of the The Ohio State University. They had several old farm trucks we would have to drive around the property. The even had one that was a 3 speed on the steering column.
    When we consider the idea of apprenticing. I wondered after reading Poole’s books which professions which exist today would actually be a good fit to an apprenticeship rather than 4+ years of college. Could social workers learn everything from a Master social worker? Is there a benefit to the liberal art education that we offer? Do you think this would work for someone interested in ministry? Do we actually possess the time and resources necessary to apprentice someone? I believe Poole referenced Malcolm Gladwell as saying it takes 10,000 hours to learn a skill.

  3. Daren Jaime says:

    Hey Chad! I really enjoyed your post and said Amen to vulnerability in leadership. This is one of the most significant hurdles to overcome, but it is so freeing when you can practice it safely. I’m interested to know where you thought you could drive a stick in your leadership journey but found out you needed more practice and not simply theory?

  4. Graham English says:

    Chad, Thanks for your post. I had to laugh at your last comment. “Before long, it will be easier than driving stick.” I only wish!
    I most appreciated your comments about vulnerability. It’s certainly hard to admit that you don’t know and that you need to develop.
    I also loved the pastoral residency that you are developing. How do you think you might develop a growth mindset for these young leaders that encourages them to admit their need for development?

  5. Nancy Blackman says:

    You took me back to my first car — my beloved VW Bug that was a stick shift. Learning how to drive a stick is a whole process in itself! But I feel like I’m a better driver because of it.

    That’s amazing that this book has been a catalyst for discussions within your leadership context and your church community!

    How do you hope to use some of her concepts as building blocks for the apprenticeship program you’re creating? What ideas will become a part of your conversations with those apprentices that you hope will stick as they navigate learning to become a leader?

  6. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Chad – I enjoyed your post. Although I’m not sure that leading will soon be as easy as driving a stick shift!

    I love leading, and honestly find it hard not to lead. But leading is TOUGH. When Dr. Percy reminded of this, it was an affirmation of what I’ve always experienced. And I think you described part of this difficulty as risk. When we lead, we take risks, and some of them pay off, but some certainly do not.

    In a past role, I took a risk on a highly talented but a bit rough around the edges team member. I invested in him because I knew the payoff could be substantial, and he was worth the risk. But at the end of the day, it just didn’t work out. I wish I had Leadersmithing back then to help in my coaching journey.

    As you’ve grown in leadership experience, have you found it to become easier?

    For me – it’s easier in a sense because I’m familiar with leadership, but the challenges and responsibilities keep growing, so the stakes are higher.

  7. Julie O'Hara says:

    Hi Chad, Thanks for your post. I am connecting the fear of risking vulnerability with the natural leadership disposition mentioned early in the post. The naturally charismatic are still tapped to lead due to socially conditioned expectations of what a leader ‘looks’ like, often to the detriment of better prepared leaders who don’t shine quite as brightly. When those less formed are pushed beyond readiness, it hurts organizations. Your post reminds me how much it also hurts the leader who may be trapped in fear and unable to grow their inside to match their outside. What practices/critical incidents did you find in Poole that could help a leader risk vulnerability?

  8. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Chad,
    Thank you for your post. I resonate with your reflection on Poole’s leadership development and the
    analogy of leadership as a skill that can be forged and shaped, much like metal in a blacksmith’s forge. It dispels the myth that leadership is solely an innate trait and highlights the importance of intentional development.
    I believe many readers will agree with what you wrote about your personal experience of feeling ill-equipped despite being placed in leadership roles due to your outgoing personality. Poole’s perspective on demystifying leadership by emphasizing its developmental nature is encouraging. – it suggests that anyone, regardless of personality or disposition, can become a capable leader with the right approach and mindset.
    By the way, I cannot drive a stick!

  9. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hey Chad,
    Loved your stick shift analogy. Makes me miss my 69 bug – best car ever!
    You have given me part of an answer I have been wondering about this week. I have felt I was a born leader, but your statement of:”Because I had a more outgoing personality and developed many friendships quickly, teachers and coaches put me in leadership positions.” fits me to a “T” – that is what happened to me. So maybe it wasn’t that I was born with it, I just had the gift of personality and what they saw in me. Thank you for giving me something to chew on.

  10. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Chad, thanks for a great read! I started and ended with a laugh as you brought me back to the countless hours I had to put in at 15 to learn to drive a stick shift without fear of stalling at a light or worse, on a hill

    Anyway, I love that you’re putting some of what you’ve learned into practice for your residency. What you say about vulnerabilty and risk is very true. It’s that fear of the in-between that’s required when learning something new. Yet, like Poole says, we can overcome that fear by simply practicing. It’s just that first step that can be so hard. Any thoughts on how you’ll support new pastors in taking that first leap to step into vulnerability and practice?

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