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.