Sunday, June 8, 2014

Leading Through Crucible Events


Continuing the Twitter-based Professional Discussion (#CCLKOW ) of the past four weeks, we will be discussing how individuals and organizations learn from failure in the context of a crucible experience.  Framing failure as a crucible, whether it be personal or organizational, can lead to incredible opportunities to learn, develop, increase effectiveness, and perform better than before the crucible.

A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity.

Crucible Overview: Everyone is tested by life, but only a few extract strength and wisdom from their most trying experiences. A crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity.  Extraordinary leaders find meaning in, and learn from, the most negative events. Like phoenixes rising from the ashes, they emerge from adversity stronger, more confident in themselves and their purpose, and more committed to their work.
The Many Shapes of Crucibles:
Some Crucibles are violent and life-threatening; others are positive, yet profoundly challenging (such as demanding bosses or mentors).  Crucibles can  be any event where a person has faced great pressure, stress, and/or adversity of his or her life to date. Whatever the shape of the crucible, leaders create a narrative telling how they met the challenge and became better for it.

Bennis, Warren G, Thomas, Robert J. (2002) Crucibles of Leadership. Harvard Business Review, Crucibles of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, September 2002

If interested you can read the full article here

The diagram below depicts a crucible event. It was developed by former CALDOL Director, mentor, and friend COL Tony Burgess (http://www.tonypburgess.com/ ).  Referencing the diagram, an individual or organizations is operating and performing, and then suddenly something happens, a crucible moment occurs, and they find themselves at the bottom of the divide.




Crucible events create dissonance and confusion. We don't control them, they are unplanned, and can happen at any moment depending on market conditions, enemy situation, forces we can’t control, etc….

If failure is viewed as a crucible moment, then how do we react to the opportunity failure presents? Individuals or organizations have three options:

       Spiral out of control and do not recover from the crucible event
       Recover, but “Flat Line” and do not learn or develop from the experience
       Find meaning in, and learn from, the crucible experience


For organizations to persevere through crucible events, competent leaders are needed that understand the opportunity crucibles present.  These leaders must be able to plan to address the current circumstances but also demonstrate a readiness to quickly change and adapt thinking when it is not working. These types of leaders have to be developed and that is a topic for discussion below.


For discussion from a personal and organizational perspective:

#1:What happens when we fail? Make a mistake? Screw up? Go through a tough situation? That "crucible moment" can be a catalyst for our development if we choose to learn and grow and emerge on the far side better than when we started. How can we develop competent leaders capable of leading through these events?

#2:What happens when one of our subordinates or a subordinate unit fails or screws up?  What happens when a strategic mistake is made, when the enemy votes and does something different?  Can we help them frame the situation as a crucible/developmental moment?

Join the conversation using the hashtag #CCLKOW 



Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.  

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