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

The Leadersmithing Forge

Written by: on November 4, 2021

I enjoy reading well-researched historical fiction. To see a particular period of time and cultural context through the experiences of a cast of characters helps me to get a feel for life in that era—the common human challenges and joys and the elements that forge a person’s or community’s character. It gives me a different lens through which to view my own life path. One such series is The Saxon Stories (13 books), by Bernard Cornwell, set in the context of England’s birth during the ninth and tenth centuries (common era). It is the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg that most captured my attention. In retrospect, his maturation journey, especially as a leader, and his interactions with Alfred the Great, also on his own leadership development journey, showcases so many of the features highlighted in this week’s reading. I knew there was a reason I enjoyed the series so much .

Eve Poole in Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership[1] would have been a hit with Uhtred. Her practical approach to Leadership as a craft to be developed over the course of a lifetime, with skill sets that can best be honed in the pressures of real life, parallel Uhtred’s hard won lessons about the centrality of personal character development and integrity, the disastrous costs of failing to prepare for key meetings, the importance of being apprenticed and apprenticing others to develop leadership skills, and more.

Poole makes it clear from her Introduction onwards that the focus of so many leadership books (both historic and contemporary) on the heroic acts of high-level leaders, without actually revealing their trade secrets for effective leadership, has to end if our collective societies and organizations hope to cultivate the caliber of leadership needed in today’s complex world. She wants to demystify leadership and make it accessible to everyone in the same way that a blacksmithing master teaches an apprentice all the details of mastering the heat of the forge to produce fine steel. Hence her book title that shifts from discussing leadership as a concept to discussing leadersmithing as a craft.

Leadersmithing falls under the broad classification of sociology and contains a scientific element through its reliance of research from the field of neurobiology. But this is not a textbook. Poole intends for her writing to be used as a manual, as a practical guidebook that those in leadership positions can utilize to develop their leadership, thinking, and learning capacities in a disciplined manner so that they are ready for the next level of leadership before they step into it. She divides her book into two parts, with a very helpful introduction and conclusion, and five practical appendices. In addition, both her bibliography and index are robust resources for further reading and research.

In Part One, Poole lays out her theory of leadership in four concise chapters. In Part Two, she gets down to business, inviting the reader to step into the heat of actively practicing the skills central to honing 17 key areas of leadership (named by her as Critical Incidents). For each of these Critical Incidents, she puts together a suite of skills (what she calls a template) utilizing the metaphor of a deck of cards. Hearts are skills related to putting others at ease, Spades are skills related to tools and techniques that get things done through others, Clubs are skills that impact a leader’s physical well-being and presence, and Diamonds are skills that sharpen a leader’s capacity to lead well under pressure. The reader is invited to jump into this guide at whatever point will be most useful to their leadership development.

Her metaphor of cooking also resonated with me. She equates recipes with her concept of templates. Using The Great British Bake-Off as an example, she contends that a contestant will practice as many different recipe versions of a soufflé they can find, so that during the competition they are prepared to improvise their own version. In the same way, leadersmithing is about collecting, practicing, and integrating relevant templates now in order to be better resourced to innovate when in the pressure cooker of higher-level leadership.[2]

To truly engage Poole’s book will require discipline. As I reviewed the different Critical Incidents with my upcoming Design Workshop in mind, I found myself drawn most to the skill set under “Taking Key Decisions.” Then I started reading through the “cards” that make-up the template of skills for this leadership capacity. Wow! Practicing each of these with deliberate focus will take effort (which is one of the skills listed—understood as developing the mastery to operate consistently at a high level) and time. I’m grateful she ends her book with the encouraging word that leadersmithing is a lifelong pursuit. I’m also grateful that I now have a guidebook that offers tangible and practical skill sets to develop, along with a roadmap for doing so. This book will stay within easy reach on my desk as I continue to be forged in the furnace of real-life.

[1] Poole, Eve. 2017. Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. London; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Business, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.


[2] Ibid., 177-178.

About the Author

Elmarie Parker

13 responses to “The Leadersmithing Forge”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, you are so right to stress how practical “Leadersmithing” can be for leaders. It is as if she concluded there are plenty of books about leadership theory so her book would include theory but provide plenty of application. You are correct to stress discipline for proper and full use of the book. For the person who wants it, this book supplies a year’s worth of leadership training. What a unique approach to books on leadership. By the way, I also enjoy historical fiction. Have you seen “The Last Kingdom” on Netflix? The books are always better, but I enjoyed the series. I would also recommend Edward Rutherfurd if you are not familiar with him.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hey, Roy. Thank you for your comments. And, it’s always good to discover fellow historical fiction affeciando. I have watched the Netflix series. This most recent season was harder for me to get into, as the books covering this season are so much better. I’ll look up Edward Rutherford.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Elmarie: I also like reading historical fiction (Trinity by Leon Uris is my fav). I agree that discipline is required to fully put into practice the teaching found in this book. It is a daily grind, with no shortcuts. But just like our walk with Christ, after time has passed and we stayed true to the course, we can look back and be amazed at just how far we’ve come. Thanks for your thoughtful essay.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Troy. I also was reminded of the discipleship/sanctification journey as I read Poole. I need to give some more deliberate thought as to how best to integrate her ‘exercises’ into my current work in order to prepare for what is coming. I think the foci on board development and working with numbers will be my starting point. Were there particular foci that grabbed your attention?

      And, thank you for mentioning your appreciation of Historical Fiction an the recommendation. I’ll add Trinity to my list.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    I too feel that this will be a tool that will be easily accessible as I continue in my leadership journey. The beauty of having one book to address so many seasons of leadership makes it more versatile than some others. While I do like historical fiction, I must admit I’d likely turn on “The Great British Bake-Off” first and was hoping you were going to incorporate not having ‘soggy bottoms’ into your reflection.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      How would you integrate ‘soggy bottoms’ into leadership formation? Intriguing challenge for sure. Was there a particular season of leadership in Poole’s book that stood out to you more than others?

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie, I am with you in finding that this book will be close at hand as I move through my own chapters of leadersmithing.
    Poole does stress the need to empower others around you. I wonder if you struggle with that in your role? I know I do…the expectations of the pastor to run the church as if the power of all decisions rests with him/her is difficult for me…often because church members say, “that’s what we pay you for.” Even when I work to empower the session they are reluctant to take on that responsibility.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hey Nicole, great question and struggle regarding the pastoral role and empowering others. I did hear that same refrain while in parish ministry. My work-around was looking and listening for people who were hungry to grow in some dimension of their discipleship and leadership and then explored next steps with them from there. I had to pay close attention to power dynamics, as it was often people at the fringe that had the hunger to grow, and folks in the center who were more content with the status quo. So I looked for openings to help hungry folks step into leadership, usually on new initiatives that had buy-in from the center, but the energy to move them forward came from the fringe. Overall this worked well, as long as folks in the center were respected. Of course, the fact that many of those at the center were tired definitely helped :).

      In my current work, most of my empowerment work has been in the context of the networks of Presbyterians (and others) who feel a pull to be connected with what God is up to in the Middle East and want to get to know Middle Eastern siblings in Christ. Because my work is split between the USA and the Middle East, it creates room for others to exercise their gifts to really see something dynamic happen. That has worked better in one Network than the other. In part, this is due to the ability to share more story in public settings from one network area (Syria/Lebanon) than from the other area (Iraq) out of respect for boundaries set by our regional partners and their safety.

  5. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Elmarie, as usual an excellent analysis of our reading for the week. I struggled to classify Leadersmithing so greatly appreciate how you categorize it under Sociology and point out its place as a leadership manual for apprentices as well as masters. The 17 Critical Incidents and its very practical approach make it one of the best books I have read on leadership.

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Very insightful! I especially loved this quote: “She wants to demystify leadership and make it accessible to everyone… Hence her book title that shifts from discussing leadership as a concept to discussing leadersmithing as a craft.” I couldn’t agree with this more. While I would need/want to read this book again (it will make the ‘re-read’ list), I would like to further dial in how to apply these principles to the craft of leadership. If nothing else, to think of leadership not as a skill to be gained through books and titles, but rather, through practice and apprenticeship.

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey, Eric…I am on board with your closing comment–“to think of leadership not as a skill to be gained through books and titles, but rather, through practice and apprenticeship.” Since reading Poole’s book, I’ve been thinking through who I can ask to ‘shadow’ in the areas I feel are at the top of my list to stretch in as I prepare for the next season of leadership.

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Elmaire, the more I hear about your world I think we were meant to be friends. I’m a fan of historical fiction as well, I love how you tied this week’s reading with your passion of historical fiction. I find it interesting your connection with “heroic acts of high-level leaders”. It makes me wonder if you are foreshadowing next week’s book as well as connecting with Poole. I think that leaders of great character, particularly those of faith, are often on the cutting edge of heroic acts.
    You really laid out a clear description of the four types of “Critical Incidences”. I was particularly drawn to these as well as, because I often find in the church environment we lack concrete markers that we desire to attain.
    You are right, Poole’s idea of template is great. It creates flexibility within the acquisition of key markers. It also makes way for creative interpretation or adaption to various cultures that we both are dancing around.
    I love the diversity of connection that is coming through in this post.

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