Crucibles of Leadership

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Goldsmith melting gold to liquid state in crucible with gasoline burner.

Crucibles of Leadership by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas

Such transformative events are called crucibles – a severe test or trial. Crucibles are intense, often traumatic – and always unplanned.

In literal terms, this quick and easy read is a short summary of the personal experiences and challenges of seven people who have achieved significant accomplishments, fame notwithstanding.  In terms of the purpose of the article, the point is to share what made these individuals leaders, to evaluate their crucibles.

The first five stories were about individuals who refused to be crushed by pressures intended to destroy them whereas the remaining stories are about individuals who rose to meet the pressures of high expectations, expectations intended to groom them.  Relative to the first five stories, the core principles are as follows:

•You must develop your own narrative to explain your dilemma, and it is this narrative that gives you a path forward, an escape.
•You must resolve that quitting is not a viable choice.

These are perspectives that you must arrive at entirely on your own.  Trying experiences lead to linkages that allow you to connect those things that actually occur with meaningfulness and possibility. That reflective process is redemptive.  Further, once it is fully realized, it is nearly impossible for additional or external forces to move you from your post of conviction.  Essentially, these convictions facilitate confident leadership.  On the other hand, the central message of the remaining two stories focuses on intense mentorship and grooming.  These stories speak to a willingness to be frequently corrected and with rigor.  To willingly walk toward corrective feedback requires a level of respect, trust, and humility that many people find difficult to stomach.  In order to be receptive to coaching, one takes different risks on the journey toward leadership and excellence.  Those risks are:

1. Hearing about your flaws and mistakes over and over again and until they are ironed out (studies tell us that the lack of consistent and honest feedback is sorely lacking in the workplace and is a great cause of mediocrity); and
2. Submission relative to doing what you’re told to do, whether you’re unsure, in disagreement, or simply have a different preference.

Finally, Bennis and Thomas contend that both of experiences lead to personal core convictions which lay the foundation necessary for effective leadership. It is these personal convictions that create a framework that enable leaders to connect with those whom they influence.  The connection comes from the leaders to usage of what they know to be tried and tested to achieve the following amongst those they influence:

a. Find and communicate shared meaning with those they lead;
b. Be a distinctive and compelling voice;
c. Operate with a sense of integrity; and
d. Exemplify adaptiveness.

Essentially, the work of a would-be leader begins with perspective-building amid obstacles.  If you cannot see a path forward through your own dilemmas, how can you lead and align others through theirs?

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