Friday, January 30, 2009

The Crucible

A recent book made me rethink leadership development. It's entitled Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to be a Great Leader and is written by Robert J. Thomas. The author's premise is that one must encounter real "experiences" in their leadership roles to learn - not only about leadership but about themselves AND about how they learn. My freshmen recently took an inventory that told them how they learned (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) - but Thomas goes way beyond that. Learning how one learns can occur most effectively when one experiences a difficulty - reflects on how they weathered that difficulty - and can look from the outside on what they learned from that experience. Sound confusing? I think it is...and that is why so many people never embrace their leadership potential, because this is a difficult exercise.

What I most appreciated about Thomas' work is that he doesn't advocate having to jump out of airplanes (though I still want to do that) or having your company fail and close down (I don't want to do that). He provides the alternative of having to look in the mirror and reflect deeply on who you are and what you believe and WHY you are the way you are. While an individual may be able to engage in that type of behavior by themself, it is often easier with a mentor or coach who will hold you more accountable to your answers.

My crucibles have been many - but one comes to mind that shaped my leadership for years to come. I was a mere senior in high school (17 years old) and I was sitting on my church's worship committee. At a meeting in the early winter, I asked with a "know it all" attitude why we never did anything neat like a Tenebrae Service on Good Friday. My pastor, who was a young buck at the time, turned it back to my and said that if I thought that was a good idea, I should go ahead and plan one. In my arrogance, I said I would. 3 months later, St. John's Lutheran Church in E;lgin, Illinois had their first tenebrae service. I actually came back my freshman year in college to make sure it happened for a second year. As I reflect on that time, my pastor could easily have either dismissed the idea or said that he would do it himself...I could have backed down and said that I was too young or inexperienced or busy...the rest of the committee could have laughed at me and my idea. But I took the challenge - I was supported by others to see it through - and to this day I still open my mouth, suggest new ideas, and end up seeing them through.

So what is your leadership crucible? Can you name one? Do you have to find one? Have you put yourself in a position to have one? Do you need to find a coach who will help you identify that crucible? And most important, are you willing to be a LEARNER who is not afraid of the crucible and what it wil teach you - about leadership, about yourself, and about learning!

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