Leadership Crucibles: Why are we scared to fail?

Tough times do not last, but tough people do.

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.

Self Aware Leaders Are More Effective. Click here to learn how.

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