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

To a man with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Written by: on September 11, 2023

Along with being a pastor, my dad was a bi-vocational contractor. He mostly worked laying floors, but he could do anything, as was evidenced by the fact that he built—by hand—one of the houses I lived in when I was young (yes, I know it sounds like I grew up on Little House on the Prairie, but this was only 1972 Oregon). He was, and still is, incredibly handy!

But it turns out that I didn’t inherit a single one of his ‘handy’ genes. I did learn the difference between a Phillips and Standard screwdriver, and I do know which side of a hammer drives in a nail, but that’s about the extent of it. Seriously. Unlike some of my pastor friends who have learned (and excelled at) things like woodworking, laying tile, and fixing stuff around their house, thinking of doing any of that gives me cold sweats.

Even though I am not at all handy…AT ALL (are you picking up what I’m laying down here?), my dad made sure that as an adult I had a working toolbox, and that I at least knew what those things in the toolbox were to be used for. First, he bought the box, then he started to buy the tools, and explain them to me. I may not know how to make the best use of a screwdriver, but I sure know where to find one if I ever need it.

In Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power (The Undefended Leader, part 2) Simon Walker seems to be concerned with making sure leaders understand how to access the power-tools they will need to pursue their calling.

But let’s stop right there. Power? Some would say power is a dirty word when talking about leadership (but not when talking about tools: give me a drill over a screwdriver anytime). It seems to be widely accepted that the more a leader learns to exercise power, the more of a corrupting agent it will become.

That’s the reason Walker makes it clear that the use of power in any form is not for the purpose of promoting the leader, but with the objective of serving the true needs of the follower.[1]

Like a surgeon handling a scalpel, power can be dangerous if used improperly or with ill intent. But, as a surgeon can’t help people without the scalpel, a leader must use power responsibly if she or he is to serve others.

In the interest of training leaders to correctly utilize power, Walker has developed (or discovered) what I was calling a “three letter scheme” that pointed to the different kinds of power leaders might use. The first letter indicated whether the kind of power was used on the frontstage (P-presenting) or backstage (R-reserved). The second letter had to do with whether it was strong power (S) or weak power (W). The third letter considered whether the power was consolidating (C) or expanding (X).

Though not as complicated to me as Eve Pool’s leadership deck of cards in the helpful book Leadersmithing[2](I learned a lot but gave up far before learning all 52 ‘cards’), it took me about half the book to finally ‘grasp’ this principle… but when I did, I realized something quite important: Power comes in different shapes, and sizes; diverse forms of power have various impacts, and leaders are wired in such a way that they will more naturally gravitate towards one form of power over another.

A competent leader will learn to both intellectually understand and have a basic practical knowledge of how each form of power can best be utilized in dissimilar situations to best serve leadership’s purpose, which, importantly, is never about serving the leader themselves.

In other words, I might be more naturally inclined towards using a hammer, and it may be one of the only tools I know how to use well, but as they say, to a man with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And even I know that it’s a bad idea to use a hammer to set a screw (thanks, dad).

One more thing: It initially seemed strange to me that a book whose title included the phrase “the undefended leader” was primarily about power. I thought “Isn’t the use of power ultimately a defense mechanism?” In the last section of the book Walker turns a corner from the “three letter scheme” and reestablishes what he’s been saying throughout the book (and throughout the first book in the series.)

“The undefended leader”, Walker says, “is the one whose needs are met through an unconditional attachment to an Other, in which she finds identity, belonging, and affection. This source of approval gives her such security that her sense of self is not defined by her success as a leader.”[3]

 Like we learned in Edwin Friedman’s “Failure of Nerve”[4] an effective leader must learn the principle of detachment. What Walker seems to be adding to our understanding is that detachment, and mastery of all eight leadership tools he points to, is most truly possible when a leader is truly attached to and finds her identity in God.


[1] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose: Training in the Exercise of Power, Carlisle, CA: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007, 142.

[2] Eve Pool, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. London: Bloomsbury Business, 2017.

[3] Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose, 144.

[4] Edward H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. Revised edition. New York: Church Publishing, 2017.

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

10 responses to “To a man with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

  1. Travis Vaughn says:

    I, too, found Poole’s book a bit challenging to follow. That being said, I found it helpful enough to include in the bibliography for the course I’m teaching this fall in a local seminary.

    I also resonated with Walker’s emphasis regarding the leader’s attached to an “Other,” and that is partly why I’ve included it in my syllabus, in addition to Poole’s book.

    And lastly, in addition to also NOT inheriting any construction-related skills that were obviously not passed down from my parents… I found your statement regarding the “competent leader” learning “to both intellectually understand and have a basic practical knowledge of how each form of power can best be utilized in dissimilar situations…” to be helpful. This is why I’m going to return to Walker’s book, as I am starting to better understand both a) Walker’s framework for the different strategies to deploy and b) which particular use of power is needed for the organization I currently serve.

  2. mm Russell Chun says:


    After reading Travis’ and now your post, the idea of the 8 strategies as tools in a toolbox has stuck.

    At first I was looking for “my leadership strategy” but now it is readily apparent that I need to broaden my approach.

    I do enjoy comparing and contrasting the tools in Walkers book.

    Thanks for giving me the new perspective.


    • mm Tim Clark says:

      That was the biggest paradigm shifts for me when reading this book; going from ‘which one of these is my strength” to “I need to learn something about each one of these”.

      Looking forward to seeing you next week.

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    Tim! Looking forward to seeing you in Oxford soon! Also, your blog post caught my eye so I checked it out, and I noticed you also connected that final quote from Walker to Friedman! It’s fun to see the connection. Such a critical skill for us as leaders to learn. See you soon!

  4. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Tim, as other’s have already said, the toolkit concept is a great analogy to use here. It takes me back when I had my 1st leadership role (for which I was woefully unprepared) and I would occasionally “step in it” with a situation with an employee. Inevitably, I would end up working with an HR leader to get things straightened out, and she would say “well, you just got a new tool in your toolkit.”

    It is worth noting that I would have preferred to have had these tools BEFORE I had to get bailed out by HR! Though, in fairness, I am not sure if it would have stuck if I hadn’t had such an urgent, “just in time” need for them. Do you think it is better to have a full toolbox to start or to slowly get the tools as you need them? Am I taking the analogy too far? 🙂

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      I don’t think you are taking it too far, at all. It’s a GREAT question.

      I think in the “real world” it was better to get the tools one at a time and have them explained to me. So I wonder if in the “leadership world” the same would be true? Like for my toolbox, I understood the tool and had seen my dad use it before I owned it and could use it myself.

      Seems like part of the angst (at least with me) is that I’m now learning about 8 new tools and feel like I have to try them all out. Perhaps it would be more effective if I more fully understood them first, and then worked on one at a time.

      Thanks for the question.

  5. Cathy Glei says:

    You had me hooked in while hearing your story woven into your post. Thankful for toolboxes! You mentioned, “Walker makes it clear that the use of power in any form is not for the purpose of promoting the leader, but with the objective of serving the true needs of the follower”. Do you find that the challenge can be, for us as leaders, to hold in balance the serving of the needs of those we lead in check with the care/stewardship of ourselves? Looking forward to seeing everyone in Oxford. . . soon. Safe travels!

  6. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    I loved reading about your Dad. I had no idea that you were from Oregon. I spend a great deal of time in Southern Oregon with one of my clients.

    I am fascinated by Pastors that are bi-vocational. It takes a specail person to be able to do it. My Grandfather was one of those special people. He was a farmer and also a Pastor of 5 Churches (Each Church had an assigned Sunday). I learned the value of time from him, he had a very detailed schedule an allotted time for his Farm duties and also left time open for his Congregates. He anticipated their visits and worked his schedule around it. People were his priority.

    Are there lessons that have you learned from your Dad’s bi-vocational role that have helped you as a Pastor?

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