IVP Press, 256 pages
Tod Bolsinger has gained wide recognition for his leadership expertise displayed in “Canoeing the Mountains.” Since then, he has continued to build upon the work of Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky focused on adaptive change, along with that of Edwin Friedman’s attention to organizational systems. In this book, he uses the metaphor of tempered steel to describe the skills necessary to be a leader capable of leading deep change in the face of massive resistance. Martin Luther King Jr.’s line about “hewing hope from the mountains of despair” figures prominently. (It’s clear that Bolsinger has listened to his critics who suggested he address the experiences of people of color.) “Leading change,” he writes, “is disruptive. And everything within resists disruption.” He writes in a compelling manner, combining storytelling with data and filling the book with illustrations of the tempering process. Remarkably, Bolsinger participated in a blacksmithing course as part of his research for the book’s central metaphor. (Some readers may be turned off by the PowerPoint nature of the book, but for those who want to learn precise skills, it’s helpful.)
While he is clearly building on the work of others, including Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Bolsinger is focused on his audience: Christian leaders of congregations, whose lives must be grounded in a relationship with God who has called them into the service of transformation. He acknowledges the work is hard and describes candidly his own failures along the way. What is needed is “tempered resilience” to remain a leader in the face of resistance. The goal is clarity about the “processes and practices” that will enable leaders to be tempered and resilient. I think this book would be enormously helpful when studied together in a collegial group committed to supporting one another in the demanding work of congregational change. It is not clear what challenges congregations that survive the global pandemic will face. It is obvious though that change will be needed to adapt to a new circumstance. This book and Bolsinger should be considered essential guides.