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

Simulated Pearls and an Unknown Apprenticeship

Written by: on February 12, 2024

The older I get the more I realize how smart my parents were. So much of what they did, and didn’t do, as parents, shaped and formed me into the person I am today. While they will admit, and I have come to realize, they are not perfect, but the positive role models of love, service, boundaries and perseverance that they modeled for me have shaped me in tremendous ways.

Now, as a husband and father raising four kids with my incredible wife and leading a church of people seeking to follow the way of Jesus together, I realize the gifts I’ve been given, the pearls of leadership that have formed in me along the way and how the experiences I’ve had up to this point have shaped me into the leader I am today. I would agree with Poole, that leaders are made, not born. But I still feel I have a long way to go to be the leader that I want to be.

So much of the template responses we have when we are afraid were learned. This was an important truth and new thought for me as I dove into Poole’s book and research on Leader-Smithing. Poole’s book gives practical tools for thinking about leadership and developing leaders. In a TED talk she gave in Durham six years ago, she used the metaphor of pearls and leadership. She says, “you can’t have the beauty of pearls without the grit at their heart.” Its a powerful reminder that leadership is often learned through trials and peril but that beautiful things can come out of it. But so often I found myself looking for the path of least resistance or most clearest path, rather than opting for the grit and peril that might be necessary for my development.

I’ve always been fascinated by leadership and the brain and how we can learn and unlearn certain responses in situations that dictate how we will act and lead. As someone who has pastored congregations through change and sought to empower and teach others to lead, learning how to navigate anxious systems or emotional responses is an important part of being an effective leader. What I’ve found is that attempting to be the least-anxious presence in the room can be one of the greatest gifts a leader can give the eco-system in which they lead in. Cultivating that non-anxious presence is important, hard, but necessary work that involves Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness and self-care and becoming familiar and comfortable in hard or difficult situations to realize that it will turn out ok in the long run.

Charles Stone, author of Brain Savvy Leader suggests that one of the challenges of leadership is that we tend to crave dopamine more than we crave the satisfaction from overcoming obstacles or solving problems. He says in his article, The Addiction Many Pastors Are Hooked On, that, “Dopamine gives us a nice feel good kick…causing us to want a greater and greater ‘hit’ to feel good. The chemical is involved in reward, motivation, and pleasure prompting us to seek out experiences that invoke it. We not only want it (the motivation) but we like it (the reward it brings).” While dopamine is an important, God-created part of our brains it has me thinking about how my desire for comfort or for feeling good might inhibit my ability to grow as a leader. As someone who is in an established role in a church it can be easy to become complacent and stop learning and growing and challenging those around me to learn and grow as well.

Poole’s activities in the second half of her book have given me some great resources to draw from growing in my own leadership as well as helping others learn some of the basic tools and practices of leading. These activities can create, as Poole mentions in her Ted Talk, “Simulated Pearls” which create grit and leadership acumen for those wanting to learn, grow and understanding the poetry and the plumbing of leadership.

A few years ago, our family had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for three weeks and explore various parts of the country. One of the places I wanted to see was the town of Sarchi where beautifully painted oxcarts have been made and used for the past 150 years. Our family visited Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro and we got to explore these functional and beautiful pieces of art. The artists that learn how to paint these oxcarts must apprentice with certified painters for 7 years to learn this craft before they can strike out on their own. 7 years is a long time!

When I asked the artist why they would paint something like an ox cart that is used for doing work, hard, dirty, gruesome jobs, he replied to me, “Why wouldn’t you make something beautiful that you use every day?” To me, it was the perfect reminder of leadership and the blend of art and function, beauty and mechanics.

Poole’s book gives us the tools not just to excel at the mechanisms of leadership, but to reflect the beautiful diversity and complexity that comes from leading well.



About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

5 responses to “Simulated Pearls and an Unknown Apprenticeship”

  1. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Poole says that hearts “are all about putting others at their ease and being comfortable in social situations” (pg. 74). If I may affirm you in this: You have a clear strength in Hearts and I know this is a blessing to your congregation. I want to thank you for being this to the body of Christ – it truly shows the love of Jesus.

  2. Jeff Styer says:

    If you haven’t already started, you’ll find yourself having a sense of deja vu in regards to your leadership and anxiety comments. Love Costa Rica, been there twice and would love for my family to experience it. The painter’s response was beautiful, reminds me of when I had to get an aerator for a septic tank fixed. Got it back and it was nicely painted. I’m thinking why, this is just getting shoved down a hole to stir up and oxygenate a bunch of crap and no one else is going to see this. But the paint also serves a protective purpose, keeps the motor casing from rusting. Besides leadership, what else in our lives are worth beautifying despite the every day wear and tear it encounters?

  3. Debbie Owen says:

    First, thank you for the referral to Brain Savvy Leaders. That’s coming in my next shipment of books!

    You also indicate that you are intrigued with how the human brain works with regard to leadership. What’s something you’d like to share with me about that? (I’m always eager to learn about that too!)

  4. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Thank you for your post. I was wow’d by it. Your analogy of the painted oxcarts in Costa Rica beautifully encapsulates the essence of leadership as a blend of art and function. Just as the oxcart painters apprentice for seven years to master their craft, I agree that leadership also requires dedication, patience, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth. Eve Poole’s book seems to offer valuable coaching and tools for not only excelling in leadership mechanics but also in reflecting the beauty and complexity of effective leadership.

  5. Elysse Burns says:

    Ryan, I appreciated reading the honoring words about your parents and your insightful analogy concerning painted oxcarts. I applaud you for your intentional efforts to be the least-anxious presence in the room. I desire to be this type of person. What are some things you learned about yourself that allowed you to become the steady presence in the room?

    What simulations have you created for yourself in order to safeguard against the dopamine “addiction” of leadership?

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