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

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

Written by: on February 15, 2024

On Thursday, February 8th, 2024 a mother called the crisis line to report that her 12-year-old son was destroying personal property and exhibiting aggressive behavior towards members of the household.  The operator told her to call the police. When officers arrived, the child walked off the property and away from the scene. Since he was not posing an immediate threat, the police informed the mother that no laws were being broken and so there was nothing they could do. Once the police left, the child returned, continued to break windows, and escalated further into assault. The police were called back, the child was restrained.  The lead officer asked the mother, “What do you want us to do?”  

Eva Poole writes about how crisis facilitates the crafting of leadership skills and that Leadersmithing is a lifelong journey. I think it fits in the context of the family as well, or perhaps that was just my view while reading her work and watching her interviews.  I kept asking: How can I apply this to the crisis in my life right now?  How might her practices help me make the best choice that meet both my son’s needs and the needs of other loved ones? What is this crisis trying to teach me as leader of my family?  I hoped for some solid answers. Poole affirmed what I already knew; the “daily reality is messiness and acute uncertainty, with a lot of improvising on the job.” [1] This ambiguity has made me a very weary leader, [2] so I was looking for an energy boost and perhaps a bit of guidance on what to do next. 

Poole identifies the Ace of Clubs as a practical tool to prepare for next steps.  Work-life balance has always been a challenge for me; I am often running to and fro to get this, that, or the other thing done.  I have tried to design my home life to be a space where I can slow down and just be.  When that space is disrupted, I can usually get it back in order in a few days.  But this situation was different. Damage had been done – not just to property, but physically and emotionally.  Sweeping up the broken glass the next day did not resolve the crisis.  This was bigger than me, beyond my capacity to manage. I have no template for this. “Are you clear about your exercise of power and control?” [3] When I read this question, my answer was a resounding “No.” The only thing I am clear about is my feelings of powerlessness and lack of control.   

This current challenge reminds me of similar situations I found myself in, and the science explains why. “From what we know about neurobiology, the more emotionally charged the situation is in which these skills are acquired, the deeper the resulting memory and its retrievability under pressure in the future.” [5]  Previous experience triggered my trauma response, those survival skills kicked in and I am still employing them as I work through this crisis.  These skills include withdrawal, detachment, and catastrophic thinking.  But I am also reaching out to family, asking the church for prayer, and making appointments with service providers in preparation for what has to happen next.  

Both the King and Queen of Clubs – sleep and fuel – are suffering.[6]  I can’t get to sleep, and when I do I don’t feel rested when I wake up.  My stomach is tied in knots so food makes me nauseous. The most I can do is take a few bites of yogurt and try to stay hydrated.  I have been going for hikes down to the creek, an exercise that helps in the moment but once I return home, the dread settles back onto my shoulders.  I’m waiting for my wise mind to step in. “This ‘grown-up’ in your head is the one who helps you to function well by paying attention, making decisions, fielding novelty, planning the future and overriding unhelpful impulses.”  Yet, my ‘grown-up’ is weary, and so my subconscious is creeping in, making me “vulnerable to auto-pilot reactions that may not fit the bill.” [7]  These reactions are always based in fear and only exacerbate my anxiety.  How can I face these fears in advance to build up immunity should these fears come true – without falling into catastrophic thinking?

Poole offers an answer. “While the research suggests that learning under pressure is the optimal way to learn, you can build up to it slowly.” [6] Poole suggests that we are better able to manage crisis if we microdose to build our core strength, seizing opportunities in everyday life, in the small things, so we are better prepped for the big stuff. I’m about to make the biggest, hardest decision of my life, one for which I could not have prepared. At the moment I can’t think how I could have administered a controlled daily dose of trauma to prepare for this, so I continue to wonder how this applies to the level of leadership I must exhibit during the next few months.  I did smile briefly at her mention of the Sound of Music song “A Few of My Favorite Things.”  I do have a list, chocolate covered strawberries, the sound of birds chirping, watching my beta fish flutter their blue fins.  If I want to get through this, I need to add to this list because these few things work to lift my spirits, and grant me a moment of “joy, peace and perspective,” [8] if only temporary.  

What I did find encouraging was the way Poole refers to pearls  In her homeland, “pearl” is pronounced “peril” and she makes good use of the juxtaposition between the two.  Peril is part of the process of leadersmithing. You can’t have the beauty without the pain.” [9]  This analogy is helpful to remember as I move forward into an uncertain future. In an article she wrote to leaders in the church regarding decisions made during the pandemic, she offers words of comfort that I very much needed to hear during this season.  So, please, forgive yourself. We were all trying our very best. It was an extraordinarily difficult season in which there was no real clarity or agreement about the best way ahead.” [10]  Even without a clear line of vision of what to do for my family, I can take just one small step – do one favorite thing – with faith that all things work together for good, trusting that this grit is what I need to make a pearl.  

[1] Eva Poole. “Leadersmithing: A Craft Approach to Leadership” (HR, March 6, 2017)

[2] Eva Poole. Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership (London: Bloomsbury Business, 2017)

[3] Ibid

[4] David Wallace. “Leadersmithing: Get Better at Leadership by Building Your Muscle-memory”

(The Sum is Greater, March 5, 2018) https://thesumisgreater.wordpress.com/2018/12/05/leadersmithing-get-better-at-leadership-by-building-your-muscle-memory/

[5]  Eva Poole, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership (London: Bloomsbury Business, 2017)

[6] Eva Poole, Leadersmithing (TedX, March, 11, 2017) https://evepoole.com/leadersmithing-tedx/

[7] Eva Poole, Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership (London: Bloomsbury Business, 2017)

[8] Ibid.

[9] Poole, Eva. “Don’t Be Weighed Down by the Sins of Office” (Church Times, December 17, 2021.) https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2021/17-december/comment/opinion/don-t-be-weighed-down-by-the-sins-of-office

About the Author

Erica Briggs

15 responses to “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do”

  1. Adam Cheney says:

    I am praying for you tonight. Trauma is hard. There is no other way to say it. I hear your pain. I don’t pretend that my issues are on the same level, but I did have a teenager throw a tantrum for a full hour last night preventing me from doing any more school.
    On my list, I watch the seasons change. I see the trees just starting to turn a hint of red as new growth is getting ready to appear. I see the birds that have endured the winter still scavenge for food but they will be treated to a bounty soon. Spring is coming, it is on the way. As I watch the changing seasons I am reminded that God is soverign, he is over the seasons and each season has its time and place. May you have a blessed night.

  2. mm Kari says:

    I am so sorry for this trauma you are going through. As I read your blog I prayed for you, your son, and your family. I put your name above my desk as a reminder to continue to pray for you.

    As you make these impossible decision, may you experience God’s abundant wisdom offered in James 1:5 like never before.

    As you mourn and grieve, may you find comfort that God is keeping track of your tears and keeping them in his bottle, because He deeply loves you and your family (Psalm 56:8).

    In those deep dark moments, hours, and days, may you know that they are not dark to God (Psalm 139:12).

    Thank you for your courage in inviting us into this difficult season. I am claiming the promises of Isaiah 61:3 over you and yours.

  3. Jeff Styer says:

    I pray that God will continue to give you the strength you need to navigate this difficult situation. Thanks for sharing your personal story. I’ve heard from other people in similar situations and they received the same response you received from law enforcement. From my understanding that response provokes feelings of frustration toward law enforcement and thoughts of self-criticism and doubt as a parent. Due to my schedule, I have to try to stay a week ahead in my readings. Next week’s book, A Failure of Nerve, I believe will be an interesting read for you. It may give you some answers and/or it may frustrate you. Just giving you a heads up. In addition to praying for you, please let us know how we can come alongside you. I do appreciate how you have applied Poole’s book to your current situation. I’m not sure where you live, but at least in Ohio, I’m hearing the birds chirping and the price of strawberries is coming down and chocolate is great on strawberries and almost everything else.

  4. Debbie Owen says:

    Erica, you are doing an amazing job! You are holding it together, keeping your eyes on Jesus, and looking to God and other Christian friends – as our cohort most certainly is – for wisdom, prayer and encouragement.

    You are doing the hard work every day that most parents only get teeny tastes of. Don’t give up. God is with you. And we are here – I am here – ready to lend a listening ear any time you need one. God is your refuge; may you know the cover of his wings over you and your family.

    • Erica Briggs says:

      Yes, He is! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m in this program while going through such a difficult time. Prayer changes things and appreciate all the voices on the line making that call for me and my family!

  5. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Thank you for being vulnerable with is Erica. We will be praying for you and your family.
    There is reality in your post. How do leaders balance home life and leadership when there is trauma or issues going on at home. It is not easy to put on that mask that says all is going okay day in and day out, and still be effective as a leader and as a parent or partner.
    Continue to see the grace in your life. and hold on tight to the Lord. The grit will turn into a pearl one day and you will be able to look back and see God’s hand in all of this. It doesn’t take away today’s pain, but there is hope.

  6. Hey Erica,

    You are doing incredible things. You are enough. God is well pleased with you.

    What I love about your post is the affirmation that your templates are alive and well, and that leadership shows up in work as well as the everyday. Your grit and adaptability are as crucial in home life as they are in the workplace.

    And in this ‘whole context” of your whole life, may you find wholeness through Christ’s promise to never leave you.

  7. Noel Liemam says:

    Hi, Erica. We keep you in our prayers! I do agree with you when you mentioned that leadersmithing is a lifelong journey. I believe that every day is our opportunity to lead or to influence change for the better in one’s life.

  8. Akwése Nkemontoh says:

    Erica my heart broke open as soon as I read ” The only thing I am clear about is my feelings of powerlessness and lack of control. ” I see you and am here with you in spirit.

    Lets soak in those words once again:
    please, forgive yourself.
    You are trying your very best.
    It’s an extraordinarily difficult season
    in which there is no real clarity or agreement
    about the best way ahead
    and yet you are doing your best.

    Sending prayers of peace and comfort ❤️🙏🏾

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