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


Written by: on February 15, 2024


“Louder, with more authority. He needs to know you mean it.”


“Say it like your life depends on it because it does.”


“Excellent. Again.”




Our self-defense instructor encouraged us, “Practice this in the car, your room, wherever, keep practicing. You need to develop that muscle memory. Practice this so often that, God forbid, if you need it, your body will respond before you even have time to think about it.” That night, at every stoplight on the drive home, I practiced, “STOOOOOP!” I was a sophomore in college when I took this self-defense class. I wanted to learn ways to help protect myself, as much as was in my power. This is the class I still vividly remember from twenty years ago. The lesson I took away from that course was that any skill learned needs to be practiced so that the muscle memory is ready to react when the need arises.

In her book, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership, Eve Poole also emphasizes “muscle memory.” Her book centers around the idea that preparing and practicing leadership skills over thousands of hours will build muscle memory to respond to future leadership situations, especially the challenging ones we would prefer to avoid. Her method empowers leaders to approach each situation with skills and ability to respond with action over emotion.[1]

“STOOOOP!” I whirled around, thrust my arm out, hand flexed, and yelled. Shocked, he stopped. My friends did, too. With a strong and authoritative voice, I told him we did not want his presence, nor his services, and he should leave us alone or I would call the police. To my surprise, he apologized and quickly walked away, probably to find more friendly tourists. When he was far enough for my comfort level, my friends and I quickly headed in the opposite direction towards our guesthouse. Once we turned a corner, I was pummeled by my friends: “How did you know to do that?” “One minute he was harassing us, the next he was gone!” “What did you say to him?” As I tried to stop the trembling in my knees, I realized I had just successfully stopped a potentially harrowing situation in the narrow and isolated paths of the Old City, Medina, in Marrakech. According to my friends, I did it all in French. Although I have no recollection of which language I used, my brain apparently knew what to say and in which language.

Prior to going to Marrakech, I had done some research on the city. At the time, it had a reputation for people taking advantage of tourists. Thanks to my research, I learned there was a law against this type of harassing and the police were supposed to enforce it. This knowledge and my self-defense lessons triggered my muscle memory and immediately stopped what could have become a more uncomfortable situation. Living in a similar culture in another country had also helped build my muscle memory as I learned to negotiate the unsolicited advances of far too friendly men. My muscle memory’s response earned me the “leader” badge for the remainder of the trip. This was a pivotal point in my leadership journey. I experienced firsthand that knowledge and preparation paired with practice can prevent, diffuse, or improve a situation. To this day, I still practice, “STOOOOP!”

In Leadersmithing, Poole creatively provides practical ways to apply practicing leadership skills using a deck of cards. The card that jumped out to me was the 6 of clubs–gravitas.[2] Since this was not a word I was familiar with, nor was it defined in the book, I went out on a search for knowledge. According to the Cambridge dictionary, gravitas means seriousness and importance of manner, causing feelings of respect and trust in others.[3] This is an area where I could use extra practice to improve muscle memory and build my leadership repertoire.

Gravitas did not come easily when I become the director of a small medical clinic. For seven years prior I was a colleague, friend, and mentor to those with whom I worked. As I shifted into the role as director, our comradery continued, for which I was glad. However, there were moments where intentional gravitas would have been beneficial to bring gravity and wisdom into a situation.

Poole recommends minimizing one’s contribution to a meeting to bring a higher level of gravitas. We probably can all picture a person we know who meets this description, “‘wise’ people seem to say less.”[4]  Proverbs is full of verses that speak to the wise carefully using words in contrast to the fool who speaks too much. One of my favorites verses in Proverbs and personally convicting is Proverbs 29:11, “A fool gives vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” [5]

My plan for building gravitas is to keep asking myself this acronym that Tom Camacho recommends in Mining for Gold, “WAIT: Why Am I Talking?”.[6] In the past, I have used this tool to remind myself to stop and let others be heard. For the future, I want to remember that strategic silence is also a way to build trust, meaning, and gravitas. Going forward, I want to remember to “STOOOOP!” My word does not need to be the first, the only, and the last. What do you need to stop and practice to make you the leader you were designed to be?


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

[2] Poole, Leadersmithing, 114.

[3] “Gravitas,” Cambridge Dictionary, February 14, 2024, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/gravitas.

[4] Poole, Leadersmithing, 116.

[5] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Crossway, 2016).

[6] Tom Camacho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders Through Coaching, First published (Nottingham: IVP, 2019), Kindle.

About the Author



Kari is a passionate follower of Jesus. Her journey with Him currently has her living in the Sahara in North Africa. With over a decade of experience as a family nurse practitioner and living cross-culturally, she enjoys being a champion for others. She combines her cross-cultural experience, her health care profession, and her skills in coaching to encourage holistic health and growth. She desires to see each person she encounters walk in fullness of joy, fulfilling their God-designed purpose. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12 ESV

14 responses to “STOP!”

  1. mm Ryan Thorson says:

    Thanks for your post Kari and for the reminder of the practice that leadership takes, as well as the muscle memory.

    I need to continue to practice listening to others in my leadership. As a verbal processor I tend to overprocess in every situation 🙂 Learning when and who to verbally process with and when to allow others the opportunity to do the same is an important skill that I need to learn and will hopefully make me a better listener. Thanks for the invitation to reflect on this.

  2. Nancy Blackman says:

    Well, if your headline doesn’t make everyone STOP and read, then certainly your storytelling style will. Thank you.

    Your story took me back to when I was a kid. My brother eventually earned a 2nd degree Black Belt in TaeKwondo, so who do you think he did a fair amount of practicing with? Also, because we lived in third world countries with nationals continually suspicious of “them foreigners” my brother felt the need to teach me a thing or two.

    I agree with both your experience and Poole’s mention of muscle memory. It’s not just a physical muscle memory, but that concept kicks in throughout so many aspects of our lives. Think of your morning routine. How much of that is muscle memory?

    As you have moved into a leadership role in your clinic, what are some things you would do differently as you started out, knowing what you know now?

    And kudos! for still practicing the STOP technique. Will you please be my travel partner? 🙂

    • mm Kari says:

      Nancy, where is our first destination?! Thanks for your kind words. You are so right about our morning routines! There were a couple times this week where I couldn’t remember if I brushed my teeth or not. A wet toothbrush told me my muscle memory kicked in.

      Something I would do differently leading the clinic is to have more structured staff meetings and enforce rules of respect. I found that when given space to talk, staff would just talk and interrupt each other. Always talking, rarely listing. This would be something I would re-do and try to emphasize through reinforcement of the value of each voice.

  3. Diane Tuttle says:

    Hi Kari, First off, thanks for the lesson in self defense. Mostly, thanks for the breakdown of Poole’s concepts that relate to your experience of building muscle memory. As somene in leadership, I know I need to keep paying attention to work life balance. Does that resonate with you and if so, do you have any “go to” things that energize you or give you rest?

    • mm Kari says:

      HI Diane, I have come to the realization that work-life balance may be a life-time juggling game! Some days I do it with ease and others, my juggling balls are bouncing all over the place.

      My first go-to is to maintain a sabbath day every week. I’m very strict on this rule, but flexible on the day and when it happens. This has made a significant impact on the rest of my life. My sabbath usually includes something fun (the beach, eating out, etc), a life-giving social interaction (meeting a close friend, face-time call, etc), spiritual time to read my Bible and journal, and plenty of downtime to sleep in, watch a movie, do nothing, etc.

      The second thing I am learning to incorporate this semester as we are taking two classes is scheduled quality time. Going from ministry time to school work and back again is not very energizing for my extroversion. Just because there is “people time” does not mean it is quality! I try to make sure I have meaningful quality time scheduled in. Sometimes this means something as mundane as going grocery shopping with a friend, but it works. I come away more energized and ready to move forward.

  4. Adam Cheney says:

    Muscle memory is so important. This is why my fire captain had us drill, drill and drill some more. We needed to always remember to do our tasks even at 3am when we have been up all night and have cloudy brains.
    I too have yelled at someone in Swahili and I didn’t realize it came out in that language, I just knew I needed to yell and it wasn’t English.
    In the culture you are in, do other women around you carry an amount of gravitas? Or is this generally seen in the men? I wonder if you don’t normally use it because it is not a culturally accepted trait?

    • mm Kari says:

      Thank you for your questions, Adam. You brought up a point I had not thought about. You are absolutely right about it not being a culturally accepted trait for any gender. Although not often apparent, are are some cultural elements in which gravitas would be displayed– tribal leaders, the “wise women” of the community, Imams, witch doctors, etc (interestingly, mostly males).

      The honor/shame culture comes out very clearly in interactions between people– the desire to save face and to always be right, which displays through talking over others and promoting one’s self. Gravitas requires humility and respect of self and others.

  5. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Kari,
    I always love reading your post – I can hear the excitement in your voice, though we have only met briefly in Oxford! Thank you for your story. Your ‘STOOOOP’ concept relates so well to muscle memory as described by Poole. I agree Poole’s approach suggests that by investing the time and effort to develop this mental muscle memory, leaders can enhance their ability to navigate complex and demanding leadership scenarios with greater ease and effectiveness.

  6. Elysse Burns says:

    Kari, as I was reading your story I thought, “I know where she was walking!” I too have traveled down some of those more isolated, unknown streets with you. You seem to always be confident in your “muscle memory” concerning North African culture to which I am much appreciative. These types of situations can cause some unease, but have much better outcomes when we have the resources to best navigate them.

    What is one way you can practice purposeful gravitas this week in your conversations and demeanor?

    Whilst you are nurturing your gravitas, I plan to be working on my power pose.

  7. mm Kari says:

    Oh, I forgot about that time we followed a random guy into the deep dark alleys of the Medina. I see a pattern here! Bravo on practicing your power pose. It works! That’s probably what gave me the confidence (or the overconfidence?!) to march through the Medina.

    On Friday, I have a conversation where I plan to practice gravitas. My goal is to deeply listen and minimize my own vocal participation and chatter. My hope is that if/when I have a chance to weigh into the situation, I will have earned gravitas.

  8. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    Kari, what a fun post! I can feel the strength of your voice through your writing. God gave you the gift of storytelling.

    Besides storytelling, what card(s) would someone use to describe a top strength of yours?

    • mm Kari says:

      Thank you, Jennifer, for your kind words.

      I think another card people may say is a strength of mine is “working the room.” I don’t like to feel awkward in new situations and I especially don’t want others to feel that way. You’ll find me meeting a variety of people or finding that person hiding in a corner somewhere.

      What about you?

Leave a Reply