Tempered Resilience, by Tod Bolsinger, helps leaders step into the challenge of adaptive change with health, strength, and confidence.
In Canoeing the Mountains, Bolsinger showed pastors, leaders, and churches what to do in order to lead adaptively in uncharted times. In Tempered Resilience, he shows us how to be and become the kind of person who can lead adaptively in a healthy way.
Healthy leadership is resilient leadership. And a resilient leader, according to Bolsinger, is one who is “grounded, teachable, attuned, adaptable, and tenacious.” These qualities are formed in a leader as he or she goes through a process of tempering.
Using the image of a blacksmith to represent the process of becoming a strong and resilient adaptive leader, Tod Bolsinger makes the case that this process of becoming a tempered and resilient leader involves six steps:
Healthy leadership begins with “working”—simply engaging in the act of leadership. As leaders lead, they acquire leadership skills that come only from experience.
But leadership is not easy. And every leader experiences failure. The question is, what will the leader do with that failure? Those who are growing into healthy and resilient leaders will lean into this “heating” through vulnerable self-reflection. Only as we reflect honestly on the challenges and even failures of our leadership can we be formed into leaders who exhibit tempered resilience.
The important thing for leaders at this point is to not to go it alone. In Episode 83 of Spiritual Life and Leadership (“Disorientation and Spiritual Leadership”), Bolsinger stated, “The vulnerability of leadership needs the security of many relationships.” Consequently, those who want to be healthy and resilient leaders need to lean into healthy and supportive relationships. Step 4, “Holding,” is all about these relationships.
But having healthy relationships doesn’t mean leadership stops being stressful (it does mean we’re better able to manage the stress). In fact, the ongoing stress of leadership calls leaders into the fourth step of the tempering process, what Bolsinger calls “hammering.” Hammering refers to the process of spiritual formation. By developing a “rule of life” (a regular pattern of engaging in spiritual practices), leaders are “forging the strength and character” needed to continue leading through challenging times.
The “Hewing” stage of this “tempered resilience” process is about hope. How do we “hew hope from despair,” not only in ourselves, but also in “our congregations, organizations, and institutions”? As we move through these stages of leadership formation, we more and more become the kind of leaders who hew hope for those we are leading.
The final stage, “tempering,” focuses on developing a rhythm of work and rest. Just as steel is tempered through the process of heating and cooling, so leaders are made strong and resilient through a process of leading and not leading. Leaders can’t lead effectively without periods of rest. It is a “delicate balance,” but the truth is, “too much stress means that both steel and leaders become brittle instruments that crumble beneath the task.”
Become a Healthy, Resilient Leader
Like Canoeing the Mountains, this is a book that every pastor and ministry leader must read. I came away from Tempered Resilience both encouraged, challenged, and with a greater sense of clarity as to how to become the kind of leader God is calling me to be.
If you’d like to study Tempered Resilience with a group, check out the Tempered Resilience Study Guide: 8 Sessions on Becoming an Adaptive Leader. This study guide is also available for Logos.
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