The Crucibles of Leadership

It has always fascinated me how the same situation can affect two people so very differently.  And how some truly do triumph over adversity.  Think Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank; the list is long and distinguished.

Some of this was explained recently, in an evening with Margot Wood, in which she shared her insights into leaders and their attributes.  She had this to say:

  • They had all had crucible experiences – defined by Bennis and Thomas in the “Crucibles of Leadership” as “a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity”.
    • They didn’t suffer failure – but made it mean something.
    • They jumped into something that was beyond what they thought they were capable of doing.
  • They had both meaning and purpose (or what Wood called “deep smarts”).
  • They had views such as:
    • Plan but don’t be constrained (don’t be precious about your plan).
    • There’s always time (respond, don’t react).
    • Keep an eye on the big picture – make what you do matter.
    • Communicate with intent.
  • Embracing the challenge and challenging others to do the same.
  • Have courage – of your convictions and against the crowd..
    • Learn from failure (fast).
  • Emphasis on people, relationships and trust.
    • People matter.

This follows on beautifully from the Bennis and Thomas research, which shows that great leaders possess four essential skills (the same skills that enable them to find meaning in what could be viewed as a debilitating experience by others):

  • The ability to engage others in a shared meaning;
  • A distinctive and compelling voice;
  • A sense of a integrity (including shared values);
  • Adaptive creativity “an almost magical ability to transcend adversity with all its attendant stresses, and emerge stronger than before.”
    • Ability to grasp context (an ability to weigh a welter of factors, ranging from how very different groups of people will interpret a gesture to being able to put a situation in perspective)
    • Hardiness (the perseverance and toughness to enable people to emerge from devastating circumstances without losing hope).

Leadership theory can be dry and boring.  But not this:

There is probably no better example of the Crucibles of Leadership than the story of Emily and Rick Parish.  Emily and Rick lost their youngest son Elliot to cancer in February 2011.

Their response to this tragedy has been to set up the Telethon Adventurers – a not for profit dedicated to finding the cure for childhood cancers. In 2012 they raised over $1.8 million, brought together experts from all over the world and have galvanized a community to come together.

So there it is  – leadership theory in action. As we speak.

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