All great leaders fail. The difference between great leaders and everyone else is how they respond to that experience. A great leader comes out of the event changed in a positive way.
Leadership expert Warren Bennis defines this experience as a leadership crucible – “a transformative experience through which one comes to a new or an altered sense of identity”. To make the transformation requires self-reflection, examination of values, questioning assumptions, and honing judgment. If you go through an adverse experience, but you have not emerged stronger, this was not a crucible.
Examples of crucibles are getting fired from a job, having an illness, or some event that causes you to transcend adversity. Not all crucibles are traumatic. A crucible can be working for a boss that has high expectations, and some crucibles are more significant than others.
My personal crucible was working for a very demanding boss. His insatiable demand for performance drove me to a burn out that I have never experienced. One day, when I could take it no more, I snapped at him and told him I would work better if he didn’t micromanage my efforts. I tip toed around for the next couple days anticipating that at any moment I would be called into his office to be fired. To my surprise, he apologized, and agreed that I was correct, but verbally reprimanded me for the way I handled the situation. I continued to push myself for the remainder of the time I worked for him. His management style changed, but his expectations did not. I learned more in the twelve months that I worked for him than I ever did in a job before. When it was time to move on, I was rewarded with a glowing evaluation, and a newfound appreciation for work ethic and commitment. There were times when I wanted to quit, but I somehow managed to push through.
It takes hardiness and grit to persevere through a crucible. No amount of intelligence or other attributes come into factor as much as the capacity to endure difficult events. Tough times do not last, but tough people do.