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

The Forging of a Leader

Written by: on October 13, 2022

Todd Bolsinger’s 2020 book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change, falls in the category of Christian Spirituality and Leadership. The book defines tempering a leader as, “The process of reflection, relationships, and practices during the act of leading that form resilience to continue leading when the resistance is highest” (p.5). From the very beginning, Bolsinger uses the imagery of a blacksmith forging steel to make it both strong and flexible. He continues the metaphor throughout the book; it’s an apt metaphor, although it gets a little tired.

Tempering is the required process of forming a leader and each chapter of Bolsinger’s book focuses on different aspects of how this happens. In chapter one, he provides a justification for the writing of this book. He perceives a need for leaders to be courageous and resilient in the face of difficulty. This world presents numerous challenges to leaders and his polemic sounds similar to Friedman in, “A Failure of Nerve.” Leaders can’t afford to be cowardly but must face all difficulties head on and lead with boldness. Such leadership is rare and thus this book was written to help the ordinary leader become an extraordinary one.

There is a chapter given entirely to the subject of resilience, which in Bolsinger’s mind is the under-girding, over-arching quality that an individual must exemplify for the other qualities to be made manifest. The first of these qualities is working, which he discusses in chapter three. Leaders need to put in the time and effort to meet the challenges that inevitably come their way. This chapter stresses hard work and adaptability and is reminiscent of Max Weber’s book, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Weber speaks at length about the necessity of putting in long hours of work: “Ideas would certainly not come to mind had we not brooded at our desks and searched for answers with passionate devotion.” Bolsinger echoes the same ethic of hard work, long hours and study that leaders must be willing to dedicate.

Heating is the next step in the formation of a leader. This chapter focuses on when leaders fail and the lessons that can be found when it happens—as it inevitably will. Bolsinger is at his best here as he honestly deals with the difficulty set-backs present to the aspiring leader. The understanding that needs to happen to a leader is similar to the changes that the archetypical hero undergoes in his journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” After the hero ventures out, difficulties happen and the requirement to overcome them is a change in the hero himself. As Campbell says, “The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons to his fellow man” (p. 18). For Bolsinger, the leader must return with the lessons learned in failure, then implement a deeper understanding in to the organization they are leading.

Holding is the next step a leader must accept and this means no Lone Rangers are allowed. A leader must accept that he cannot do it by himself and working with colleagues is part of the job requirement. No single person understands it all and two brains (or ten) are better than one, Cooperation is a must. There are several notes in this chapter that parallel Kathryn Schulz’s book, “Being Wrong.” We must recognize that we are prone to error and we must surround ourselves with trusted colleagues. Schulz states on page 113, “The ideal thinker approaches a subject with a neutral mind, gathers as much evidence as possible, assesses it coolly, and draws conclusions accordingly.” Bolsinger would agree and emphasizes that it is other people that can sometimes see our mistakes better than ourselves and at such times, we need to listen to them.

Hammering refers to spiritual formation of a leader and the healthy habits needed to create such a life. Stress is the cauldron that these qualities are forged and we have to keep the vision and trust the process when it gets difficult and painful. It takes humility and resilience to persist through this stage, It isn’t easy, but quitting is a poor alternative.

Hewing is the next stage of development and this has to do with having the strength to have hope. Bolsinger talks about hope for ourselves, our organizations, and our congregations. It is a hope that can positively react to any change and overcome any difficulty. As we live out these principles of hewing, we become the type of leader that instills hope in everyone involved in the organization. That’s the type of leader that is similar to the leadership Christ exemplified. There are parallels in the book, “An Everyone Culture” by Kegan and Lahey. In that book, the authors recognize the importance of each individual but also the importance of the organization–each mutual benefitting the other and not at the expense of the other. The authors say on page two, “This book is as much about realizing organizational potential as it is about realizing human potential.” Bolsinger says the same thing and calls it hewing.

And finally, there is Tempering. This is the title to chapter eight and it works all the previous themes in to a tight conclusion. The author encourages us to develop a life pattern of work and rest, life and faith. There are calls to selfishness, similar to Vincent Miller’s “Consuming Religion.” In that book, Miller describes consumerism as, “an ideology of selfish satisfaction of personal aspirations.” Miller warns us strongly to watch out for this ignoble tendency that resides in all of us. Bolsinger gives us a vision that is also above our default setting of selfishness.

Bolsinger’s contribution has plenty of insight offer and at this stage of this academic program, I am beginning to see reoccurring themes that are inescapable for a leader to be successful.

About the Author


Troy Rappold

B.A. Communication - University of Colorado M.Div. Theology - Cincinnati Christian University Currently enrolled in D. Min. program at George Fox University

6 responses to “The Forging of a Leader”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Troy, wow, I appreciate how many connections you made to previous readings. I will ask a question you asked another this week: Is there something you read in this book that you disagree with? Also, is there someone from your experience that exemplifies the kind of leadership Bolsinger describes? What did you learn from them?

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Snap, that was impressive!! I think this models what Jason is looking for in a syntopical blogpost! Well done.

    I really think you should post this somewhere as a review of the book. Very helpful read. Good job Troy.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Really well done, Troy. After diving into the various components, do you feel like you are resonating with one during this season more than the others? Or, is there a component that ties to your NPO?

    I agree with Eric that this would be a wonderful review to be posted for others to see.

  4. mm Denise Johnson says:

    This was a great review of the book. I am curious how you may utilize this information in your leadership.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Troy! As others have said, GREAT engagement with Bolsinger’s text and tying his thoughts to others we have read. I really appreciate the common themes you highlighted from multiple authors and how Bolsinger brings together a lot of thoughts found separately in others’ writings.

    What part of the resiliency journey described by Bolsinger most resonates with your current leadership journey?

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Troy, you have been living into your new role for a while now. Where do you find yourself in Bolsinger’s process currently?

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