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

Strategically Stopping

Written by: on December 8, 2022

Throughout history, strong leaders have benefited from adaptive leadership skills that equip them to navigate our ever-changing world and unique societal contexts. Not only do adaptive leaders possess the qualities needed to negotiate change, themselves, but they possess the crucial qualities needed to prepare and encourage other people to navigate complex challenges and thrive in new circumstances.[1] Tod Bolsinger, known for his work on the subject of adaptive leadership, offers guidance to pastors, students, and seminary administrators as they seek to navigate rapid change in the church, in education, and in the broader world today.[2]

Book Summary

In his book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change, Bolsinger uses the metaphor of blacksmithing to illustrate the process through which adaptive leaders develop and grow strong. Bolsinger describes the steps a blacksmith takes to forge steel into a durable and flexible tool: working, heating, holding, hammering, hewing, and tempering.[3] In the same way as steel is shaped and forged, says Bolsinger, leaders are developed and grow resilient. For Bolsinger, “Resilience is not about becoming smarter or tougher; it’s about becoming stronger and more flexible. It’s about becoming tempered.”[4] Interestingly, this process of becoming tempered happens during the act of leading. Thus is the leader forged on the job and in the very crucible of change where they work. Ideally, this prepares leaders to withstand resistance to change with grace and steadfastness.[5]

Bolsinger draws heavily upon the wisdom of Edwin Friedman, author of A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.[6]  Having talked with hundreds of leaders around the country, he notes that leaders bringing change to their communities often feel daunted and discouraged, and this discouragement is most often due to internal organizational and personal resistance, as opposed to external challenges.[7] The risk for a leader is that their discouragement can lead to a failure of nerve, as Friedman stresses, or a failure of heart. Both failures result from a crisis of identity. Identity is made resilient in the very act of leadership. Therefore, according to Bolsinger, “If you are tempered and resilient you can avoid the failure of heart and the failure of nerve.”[8]

My Opinion of the Book

I found the message of this book to be valuable and the blacksmithing illustration easy to follow and memorable. However, I think Bolsinger’s book is a bit redundant. He makes a good point and then repeats it multiple times, writing from a low context assumption.[9] His book offers a good reference to skim for specific wisdom needed regarding separate parts of the tempering process. To that end, I focused on the last chapter of the book, entitled “Tempering: Resilience Comes Through a Rhythm of Leading and Not Leading.”[10]

Relevant Application

As one who has struggled with burnout over the last several years, I found the concepts in this chapter valuable. Bolsinger points out that, “Resilience comes from stress that creates strength. At the same time, too much stress means that both steel and leaders become brittle instruments that crumble beneath the task. This is the delicate balance.”[11] If we want a tool to become tempered it must go through a process of stress and release from that stress. He says that perhaps the lesson most overlooked by “change leaders” is that tempered resilience requires a rhythm of leading and not leading. This rhythm of working and not working, leading and not leading, toiling and enjoying, being diligent and being thankful, of good ministry and good life creates both a resilient leader and a healthy community.[12]

To bolster his point, Bolsinger highlights Bill Bowerman’s coaching wisdom applied at the University of Oregon in the 1950s and 1960s. Bowerman coached the Oregon Ducks in track and cross-country and is well-known for his emphasis on establishing a training routine consisting of hard workout days, followed by easier recovery days.[13]  The practice has been adopted by many successful coaches over the last fifty years. Coach John Hale, current high school running coach in Portland, Oregon, remarked that this training approach helps runners “stay hungry, eager, and mentally fresh, rather than burned out.”[14] As leaders, remaining hungry, eager, and mentally fresh in our calling is an attractive thought, indeed!

Applying the Ignatian Examen

Bolsinger suggests we increase our learning as we read his book by asking ourselves the questions often used by Ignatian spiritual directors.[15] I gave this a try, applying these questions to the material in the last chapter of the book.

  1. What has inspired you as you read this chapter?

I am inspired by the idea that good leaders, in fact, some of the best leaders, take time to stop leading. Not only do they stop leading, but they switch gears mentally, to dwell on activities and thoughts that have nothing to do with work. To stop leading, means to stop, completely. In an article entitled, “Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure,” authors Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan note, “To build resilience, you need to be willing to stop. This means spending some time away from your phone, eating lunch away from your desk, and actually using your vacation time.”[16]  They add that if you do not take these necessary, full-stop breaks, you risk burnout.


  1. What raises questions that you would like to have clarified?

A question that I would like to have clarified is: In a highly competitive, product-driven society, is there a cost to pay when a leader takes a break or is the result of the break purely beneficial? Other questions, include: Does the team pay the price when their leader takes a break, or do they benefit? How can a leader ensure that everyone on the team receives meaningful breaks?


  1. What do you find yourself resisting?

I find myself resisting the ease with which Bolsinger suggests that leaders implement the rhythm of working hard and then not working. It sounds good on paper, especially as he describes retreating to his vacation home in the Idaho mountains, but is it really that easy to maintain a balanced rhythm of working and stopping working?


  1. What changes are you considering in your own leadership because of reading this section?

In my current routine, I am good at taking “breaks from work,” but during these breaks, my mind is often still on work. Achor and Gielan remind us that if our brains are still focused on work, even while resting, we are not recovering. They comment, “If you really want to build resilience, you can start by strategically stopping.”[17] I am going to work on creating space for myself to strategically stop, completely.


Bolsinger’s last chapter has given me some valuable material to contemplate. In a world of high expectations and endless to-do lists, can successful living and sustainable leadership be found in a balance of hard work and meaningful recovery periods?  I believe it can.


[1] Peter G. Northouse, Leadership, Theory and Practice, Seventh Edition (Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications, 2016), 257, 259.

[2] Grace Ruiter and Tod Bolsinger, “Tod Bolsinger on Power, Privilege and Adaptive Leadership in 2020,” https://www.faithward.org.

[3] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 7.

[4] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 4.

[5] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 5.

[6] Edwin H. Friedman, “A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2017).

[7] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 10.

[8] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 5.

[9] Erin Meyer, The Culture Map, Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures (New York, NY: Public Affairs, 2014), 34.

[10] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 193.

[11] Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience Study Guide: 8 Sessions on Becoming an Adaptive Leader (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 50.

[12] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 203.

[13] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 198.

[14] John Hale, Cross-Country and Track Coach, Lake Oswego High School and Catlin Gabel High School, Portland, OR, Personal Interview by Jennifer Steinbrenner Hale, December 6, 2022.

[15] Tod Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 7.

[16] Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, “Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure,” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2016/06.

[17] Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan, “Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure,” Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2016/06.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

14 responses to “Strategically Stopping”

  1. Jenny,

    I loved your deep dive into what Blosinger shares.

    I worked under a pastor who followed much of Blosinger’s ideas and was big in adaptive leadership. He encouraged his staff to lean into challenges and he himself would rarely step into the situations challenging us to lead through them. This was hard and often times we struggled with his approach. As a leader leading in this way we see one perspective as someone being led in this way its a whole different view. I often wonder how we would lead differently if we were aware of how our leadership was viewed from those we are leading.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Sara,
      Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments. That is such an interesting perspective and so valuable coming from your experience under an adaptive leader. I was under imagining that adaptive leaders jump right in with the team and navigate the challenges and new seasons together. This is an interesting thought that the leader would push others through the adaptation but not take part with them. I’m interested to hear more about this!

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    This is amazing post! Well done, Jenny! I am sure many of us in this group suffer from burnout. This book was an awakening for me and a great reminder to incorporate rest and personal maintenance. Not only is it beneficial, it’s Biblical, which is no coincidence.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Michael, Thanks for your comments! Have you found some effective ways to take complete breaks and rest from your work? I am always eager to learn from what others are doing. Also, out of curiosity, have you found our DLGP work easy to stop and put away completely or is it always on your mind? Interested in your wisdom. Thanks!

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    Jenny, this is a brilliant summary of Bolsinger’s book. The clarity and detail in this summary is remarkable.

    In regards to work/rest rhythm, I can relate to the problem of the mind wandering into things that are work-related. Are there activities, hobbies, or places you go where you are able to disconnect mentally? For me, this includes cooking, playing basketball on Saturdays with a group of guys at my gym, and reading fiction (which I do not do enough of).

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi David, Thanks so much for your comments! That’s a great question. Yes, there are a few places and activities that help me disconnect almost completely: trail running at Forest Park, heading to Bend for a weekend, and baking! I love that reading fiction is a good resting activity for you. I feel like I have forgotten about that option for rest. I love reading for fun. Maybe I’ll resurrect that in my own life, too.

  4. Tonette Kellett says:


    Your post is fantastic, and well thought out! Great job as usual. I too loved the book and it was a timely reminder to me that I need a cooling down period or I’ll break.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette, Thank you so much for your comments. I am with you, so ready for a cooling down period. Hoping we can find that in the next few weeks.

      Merry Christmas to you! I appreciate you so much.

  5. Alana Hayes says:


    What a great blog! Your sources have sources!!!!

    Have you noticed any key indicators that alert you to burn out being near?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Alana! Thanks for your comments. That is such a good question regarding indicators that seem to highlight that burnout is on the way for me. Yes, some of the things that I’ve noticed are feelings of dread when I sit down to open my work email, less empathy and patience than normal, the desire to quit and move far, far away.

      Do you have burnout indicators in your life and work?

      Hope you are well! Excited to learn together with our cohort this semester.

  6. Jenny – I have seen your writing style develop astonishingly over this semester. This blog is easy to read, deep, reflective and you have so many excellent sources. You also shared insight into your own life, which is helpful. I’m planning to learn more about the Ignatian examen, as well. Looking forward to it! Well done.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Laura, Thanks for your comments. I so appreciate your thoughts and encouragement! Yes, let’s learn more about the Ignatian examen this semester and beyond. It sounds rich!

      Hope you are well. Excited to learn together with our cohort and peer group this semester.

  7. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Jenny – great posts and questions! I found myself asking the same question – is my team better when I step out for extended periods of time? I did that twice this semester with the trip to Cape Town and Israel. In this limited sample size – they are better! They learned so much and stepped into new roles. They were relieved when I came back and even said, “we don’t like being in charge!” I think the experience they gained is invaluable, and I was able to have my own experiences. I would have never done this if the commitments did not require it. I does make me more confident to step out and be “off” for a certain amount of time.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Chad, Thanks for your comments and thoughts! That is so interesting that you actually witnessed your team growing stronger when you stepped away for other commitments. That is such a good reminder that there is a plethora of talent throughout our teams. Maybe people can grown and develop in ways that would not, unless we step away? Also, your comments make me feel a little freer and less guilty to leave more often! Perhaps that’s a practice of strong leaders.

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