In his book Tempered Resilience, Tod Bolsinger explains the leadership development process using the analogy of steel being tempered due to blacksmithing. Bolsinger uses the metaphor to describe what is needed today for leaders to grow into the type of person who can be “resilient and adaptive in order to cut through the resistance and accomplish the mission of the group.”
First, I’ll briefly summarize the major points of the tempering process Bolsinger describes. Then I’ll share a few quick reflections on what stood out to me the most regarding adaptive leadership.
Bolsinger develops six steps required for a leader to be honed into the type of resilient leader who is unafraid to face challenges in a ministry or organizational setting. The steps are:
- Working is leadership in action or doing.
- Heating is analogous to being in the fire of vulnerability and being able to be self-reflective.
- Holding is being vulnerable to the point of recognizing your need for support systems.
- Hammering is the stress a leader bears as he is hammered (I prefer the word testing).
- Hewing is defined as speaking hope or reframing the vision positively.
- Tempering is leading, and then not leading – finding the rhythm.
While each step is an in-depth leadership lesson, the first chapter, The Crises of Leading Change, resonated with me. The discussion on adaptive leadership in the first chapter was a stark reminder of several transformational leadership experiences and a reminder of what is missing at the heart of church leadership.
Bolsinger quotes from his book, Canoeing the Mountains, that leadership is “energizing a community of people toward their transformation to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.” For Christians, it is the mission of “coming together to grow to accomplish something that needs to be done in the name of Christ.” The key is to desire to see transformational change in the world for God’s redemptive purposes. Recognizing the pain point(s) – often outside the organization – and making the necessary adjustments requires a change in the organizational culture.
Today, organizations and churches are presented with problems, such as rapidly changing technology (think of the American automobile industries in the early 80s and 90s) or declining current church memberships. The typical responses to overcome these challenges are based on previous business or church models. However, there is a different way to approach problems that require a culture change. Joshua’s battle at Jericho is a great biblical example of how to lead through a challenging time that needed a culture change and adaptive leadership. Instead of relying on the previous military strategy, Joshua marched around the city seven times. He demonstrated his resilience to go against the culture – which I suspect was painful and unsettling. And he adapted his method of battle. In the article, “Biblical Principles for Resilience in Leadership: Theory and Cases,” Carlo Serrano writes that for leaders, it is often “When the only easy day was yesterday.” He further expanded this point when he wrote, “there is danger in organizational life to not only rest on the victories of the past but also to assume a “one-size-fits-all” posture regarding strategy and tactics. 
One example of an organization that tried to overcome significant technology challenges was IBM in the early 1980s. IBM had dominated the large computing business but tried to stomp out the competitors’ small end-user computers with tried and true strategies. Buy out the competition. However, this time the end-user departments were heavily invested in their small computers, and the giant IBM needed a product to compete. I remember talking with many of those end-user departments trying to convince them that they should stick with IBM. But I knew our IBM products needed to be more conducive to the type of work the client departments required. The giant had looked within and couldn’t adapt. The leadership was stuck relying on ‘legacy systems’ – systems that had been around for decades. Eventually, some of the small competitor products disappeared – but Apple Macintosh and PCs quickly replaced them, and IBM never regained its competitive advantage.
“Flexible and adaptive leadership is becoming more important for most managers as the pace of change affecting organizations increases.” The rapid changes that cause leaders in organizations and churches to be flexible and adaptive are technology, social media, globalization, changing cultural values, more diverse workforces, and virtual interaction.
So how does my title, ‘Why Are Dinosaurs Extinct,’ fit? As we all know, dinosaurs became extinct because they could not adapt. According to the Natural History Museum, they were already declining, but a catastrophic event caused rapid environmental changes that dinosaurs couldn’t adapt to.
We are in a rapidly changing world. But adaptive leadership that is not afraid to swim against the current culture, think outside the box, and change paradigms are needed to solve existing issues. As Pastor Zondi stated in South Africa, for the Church, the challenge is to adapt to putting biblical principles over cultural values. Otherwise, the decline in membership might be the same precursor as it was for the dinosaurs.
 Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed In The Crucible Of Change, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2020), 4.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 79.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ibid., 127.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 199.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Carlo A. Serrano, Biblical Principles for Resilience in Leadership: Theory and Cases (Cham: Springer International Publishing AG, 2020), chap. 4, Kindle.
 Ibid., chap.4, Kindle.
 Sandra Salmans, “DOMINANCE ENDED, I.B.M. FIGHTS BACK,” Jan. 9, 1982,
 Gary Yukl and Rubina Mahsud, “WHY FLEXIBLE AND ADAPTIVE LEADERSHIP IS ESSENTIAL,” Consulting Psychology Journal 62, no. 2 (2010): 81.
 Ibid., 81.
 Dinosaurs Became Extinct, https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/dinosaur-extinction.html#:~:text=Evidence%20suggests%20an%20asteroid%20impact,happened%20over%20millions%20of%20years.