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

Practice Makes (Im)Perfect Progress

Written by: on November 3, 2021

Eve Poole’s Leadersmithing provides a practical guide for leaders to grow regardless of the season they are in when they first open the book. Through 17 critical incidents, she identifies the key components that every leader needs to be versed and practiced in. Poole continues that these critical incidents are the foundational competencies for leaders and learned through muscle memory, self-regulation, reflective judgement, and learning to learn (12). Immediately after the table of contents, Poole provides a visual of a wheel that allows the reader to identify what type of leader they are and offers suggestions for how to read the book most effectively. The breakdown of the book into sections of theory and practice provides a comprehensive understanding of the neurobiology behind leadersmithing coupled with tangible steps for the reader to practice what was communicated in a meaningful way.

Throughout my reading of this book, I could not help but think of practically ever other author we have encountered this semester so far. Here are the predominant connections that I made between Poole and the other authors this semester:

  • Shultz, Being Wrong: The importance of taking ownership when you get it wrong. Poole would identify this as the critical incident of “accepting when you get it wrong” where the difficult path when holding guilt for heavy mistakes is to “sit with the pain and try to forgive yourself” (19).
  • Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow: The value for a leader to know when and how to process information before a decision is made. Likewise, a leader needs to engage both thinking fast and slow depending on the decisions and actions their engaged with. With Poole, I most closely connected Kahneman to the critical incidents of taking key decisions and managing ambiguity. Poole provides a continuum for the reader to identify where they tend to fall from ‘shooting from the hip’ to ‘analysis paralysis’ when it comes to making a decision (15). When ambiguity is present, she states that “leadersmithing is a masterclass in figuring out when to wait and when to press on” (17).
  • Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Being comfortable with taking risks, even when they fail, and learning from them. While the front/back stage analogy could be connected to various components of Leadersmithing, I most connected Poole with the importance of allowing failure to be a welcomed part of the process of risk taking. Poole identifies questions to ask about any risk taking that focus on the learnings through the process, whether it paid off or not.
  • Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: The importance of emotional intelligence and a self-differentiated leader. Poole associated emotional intelligence first within the critical incident of “flexing style” in which the incident is “about weaning you off of any style habits you may have developed, in care an over-reliance on them is restricting your ability to get the best of our those around you” (23). Friedman’s focus of self-differentiation aligns well with the final six critical incidents which are focused on a leaders ability to listen, empower, confront, give/take feedback, and foster work-life balance for themselves and those they lead.
  • Chivers, How to Read Numbers: The emphasis on knowing and understanding the “maths” as they’d both say. Like Chivers and Chivers, Poole states that “if you do not know the language of numbers, you had better start learning it now” (20). While not specifically focused on statistics, she leans into the fact that numbers contribute towards strategy, priorities, and having accurate analysis of the work being done.

While I connected with much of Poole’s workand appreciated the practical applications, the sections she discusses “The Gallup 12” prompted the most recent memories within my leadership context. Having participated in several organizational health assessments over the years, it has been fascinating to watch the disconnect for many in high leadership positions to acknowledge their role in any areas of unhealth. As Poole states, The Gallup 12 research means that “the single most important influence on an organization’s performance is the manager” (23). Whether being presented the overarching themes in a company meeting or sitting amongst those on the committee that is analyzing the raw data, I have witnessed the cycle that when leadership does not own their responsibility to accept their role in it or actively make decisions towards health, the results of the next survey launched will produce nearly identical results. This pattern will unfortunately continue until a self-differentiated leader, one that is practiced in leadersmithing, is willing to adjust the direction, inevitably choosing a harder role for themselves as a leader, but the healthier option for the whole.

About the Author

Kayli Hillebrand

Associate Dean of International and Experiential Education

8 responses to “Practice Makes (Im)Perfect Progress”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    It can be very frustrating working in an organization where you have no say over the direction or can’t give candid feedback to the leaders making the decisions that affect you. So, if you were to sound off in a safe space, what are your administrative leadership’s most common unhealthy and unhelpful actions, communication practices, or decisions?

    As a person in charge of an organization, I’m fascinated to learn some potential blind spots of leaders.

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      Andy, I can boil some of the actions down to poor or no communication, lack of addressing poor performance and behavior, lack of empowering appropriate authority, and an expectation of overwork as a norm. While there are certainly seasons where these can be present, when you see systemic patterns over long periods of times and even in how turnover is managed, it becomes a massive morale inhibitor.

      Knowing a public blog is not exactly a safe space, I’d be happy to discuss more details offline. I’ve certainly had the same conversations with those all the way up the ladder at my organization over the years.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Kayli, wow, thanks for connecting this book to all the others we’ve read. I also agree strongly with you assessment of leadership needing to take responsibility for the state of their organization. We have a group that does church assessments for congregations and the leader of that group told me, “most church leaders explain away the “negative” results by placing the blame on others inside or outside of the church.” It’s hard to accept that I need to acknowledge the reality about myself and the organization I help to lead. I feel that I’m still learning that it just is not about me, but that’s easier to say than do. May God help us to be honest about ourselves.

  3. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Kayli, I have been a recipient of unhealthy leadership. It is very frustrating when people refuse to take responsibility for their choices. However, one of the notes I made while reading this book was that I think psychology plays a role…our culture tends to vilify those who “get it wrong”. We have a tendency to weaponize mistakes. So saying “I was wrong” takes courage. Wasn’t it Kahneman who said it’s easier to point out others mistakes than one’s own? Or am I wrong? lol

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Kayli: I love how you made connections with all the books on our reading list so far this semester. We could create a concordance of all the books we read for this program and sell it to incoming D.Min. students. I thought your last paragraph of your essay was insightful. The leader of any organization really does set the culture, direction, pathos, and they HAVE to be self-differentiated and adapt at Leadersmithing.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Can we say, syntopical essay?!?! Way to make those connections… well done.

    I too would agree with you about the assessment of leaders. Whether we are responsible for much or responsible for little, it is essential we take responsibility.

    I had a situation in the past few weeks that was out of my hands (in the sense that I was not overseeing the project), but the delivery missed the mark and was damaging to a few people. As the leader, I felt obligated to own the responsibility as ultimately the buck stops with me. By the grace of God, I did do this, but I will tell you, even now I find it challenging to not defend myself. It was a great lesson for me personally, and I hope for those I lead too.

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Kayli, I loved how you tied the previous reading to Poole. It was a brief but well connect synopsis of significant points. I too have been challenged and frustrated by upper leadership not owning their contribution to the issues at hand. That was one of the most enlightening aspects of my interviews last year. I interviewed my supervisor and the main issue from his point of view was it just was as it was. And those under him hand to accept that it was going to be that way and make up the difference in the disconnect.
    At first it discouraged me from even trying to address the issue. But when I looked at my colleagues responses I became more driven.
    My question is how do you deal with these types of responses? How do you keep going and not become discouraged or give up?

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Kayli, thank you for your thoughtful post and for so effectively connecting our other readings to Poole. Very helpful touch points. I also appreciate how you are wrestling with the issue of character, courage, and leadership…especially when it comes to owning mistakes. What you shared in response to Andy resonates with my experience of poor leadership as well. Communication, good communication, seems to be so key to the health of an organization. As you’ve shared your observations with those higher in the leadership structure, what insights has this given to you about your own scope of influence?

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