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

Stress to Strength

Written by: on February 23, 2022

Simon Winchester, the author of The map that changed the world, writes about the epic and stretched journey of William Smith, a geologist who mapped the first ever geological map of England, Wales, and southern Scotland, which gave way to modern geological discoveries. The book can be categorized under biography, and Winchester describes the revolutionary story of how one man named William Smith, a canal digger, someone who has no scientific training, becomes obsessed with the idea of creating the first geological map by following the fossils. Smith spent twenty-five years traveling all over England and published his first masterpiece that took his lifetime to achieve: an 8 ft by 6 ft hand-painted map that changed the world.

From reading the book, I saw William Smith as someone who definitely possesses a pioneering character and visionary spirit. When everyone around him was skeptical, William Smith “believed that there would be a pattern out there”[1] that would prove to be true after centuries of his research and hard work. The book reveals that Smith had to battle almost all of his life against skepticism, criticism, financial difficulties, sickness and diseases, marital relationship problems with his wife, abandonment, long physical and mental suffering, and fraud from his colleagues and friends.

How was he able to endure through such long-suffering? I understand that he had a goal he desired to reach – to “create what had never been created before a true geological map.”[2] Winchester describes Smith’s lifelong obsession to be a “work of genius, and at the same time a lonely and potentially soul-destroying project.”[3] One of the leading distinctions that I admire from Smith’s character was his dedication to hard work and resilience against loneliness. His life journey required unimaginable physical and intellectual difficulty – “it required tens of thousands of miles of solitary travel, the close study of more than fifty thousand square miles of territory…the task required patience, stoicism… It required a certain kind of vision, an uncanny ability to imagine a world possessed of an additional fourth dimension, a dimension that lurked beneath the purely visible surface phenomenon of the length, breadth, and height of the countryside, and because it had never been seen.”[4] Smith did not have a team, he didn’t have mentors, and he didn’t have the right resources, but he did have one of the strongest leadership ethics built-in him over the various trials he survived through in his life. Northhouse, author of Leadership, described leadership ethics as “concerned with what leaders do and who leaders are. It has to do with the nature of leaders’ behavior, and with their virtuousness.”[5] As I have been reflecting on the concept of tempered resilience – “resilience comes from the stress that creates strength”[6] I am reminded through Smith’s life that his view of stress was totally different from how the typical crowd view stress. A leader requires a certain kind of vision, an uncanny ability to see beyond the visible fossils of the past and look beyond what will shine through the fiery fire.



“So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:7 –

[1] Simon Winchester and Soun Vannithone, The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology. Reprint edition (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2009), 78.

[2] Winchester, The Map That Changed the World, 125.

[3] Winchester, The Map That Changed the World, 192.

[4] Winchester, The Map That Changed the World, 192.

[5] Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice. 8th edition (Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, Inc, 2018), 336.

[6] Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020) 195.


About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

8 responses to “Stress to Strength”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, this is a well-written post. I appreciate how you point out Smith’s many struggles in his pursuit. You say near the end of your post: “I am reminded through Smith’s life that his view of stress was totally different from how the typical crowd view stress.” Am I correct in assuming that the difference you see in Smith and the “typical crowd” is the our culture today? If so, in what ways do you think it has changed in our day? What would help people today to endure hardship more successfully as Smith did?

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Jonathan: I’d love to hear more about your reflections and processing of tempered resilience. What does that look like for you? Is there any connection in that for you and your NPO? How do you see that in light of your Korean American heritage?

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    I was impressed by Smith’s perseverance and brilliance, too. I love true stories like this; they inspire me so much more than fiction. Lessons are there to be learned by us. Nice connection with Northouse’s “Leadership”. It is leadership by Smith that speaks to me. Resilient, persevering, focused leadership even when people think you’re crazy.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Jonathan, I believe this is your best post yet! Very engaging, thoughtful, and a great summary. As you think about all that Smith endured, what applies to you, your understanding of leadership, and leadership context?

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thank you for bringing Northhouse into this discussion, to be honest I had forgotten that it was on my shelf, in the group of books we had read. lol How you described the fourth dimension activated my thinking. I was prompted to see that what we are attempting with our NPO’s is to captive our own personal fourth dimension. Thank you.
    So true, what we are doing “requires a certain kind of vision.”
    Do you have any further insight into your own perseverance development or how you keep going during times of ‘a lonely and potentially soul-destroying project(s)?”

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, It seems clear that Smith was a visionary in his field, but I wonder if some of the authors we have read would consider him a strong leader. If you were to give voice to some of them how might they describe Smith’s leadership? What can you learn from those comparisons for your own leadership identity?

  7. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Jonathan, thank you for highlighting the pioneering spirit of Smith. This reminds me of pioneers like Joshua and Caleb who spied/mapped out the promised land, lead Israel into possessing this important piece of real estate, and fulfilled prophecy. From reading your work since last year, I have no doubt that you also have this pioneering spirit and trust that you will pass that on to the Korean-American youth that are so dear to your heart

  8. mm Mary Kamau says:

    Jonathan, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog and especially about the shaping of leadership through overcoming stress, or tempered resilience. You have said that resilience comes from the “stress but builds strength.” It’s through adversity that we learn the best of life’s valuable lessons that distinguish us as true leaders.

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