Friday, April 04, 2008

Crucibles of Leadership

It is hard to believe that is is April and it is still snowing.

Recently I read a book called Crucibles of Leadership - how to learn from experience to become a great leader by Robert J. Thomas. I found the title to be interesting and when I did an informal poll, most people did not know what a crucible was. (It is a vessel that is used by chemists. Originally in medieval days it was used by alchemists (people trying to make gold out of base metals.)) People's definitions were from being a bowl to a religious symbol.

One troubling thing about the title is that alchemist were never successful so does this mean that these crucibles of leadership won't work?

The gist of the thesis is that often it takes a transformative occurrence to transform a leader who in turns transforms a company.

According to Warren Bennis in the Forward of the book:

This invaluable book reminds us that talent is only the beginning of greatness, that leading and learning are inextricably linked, and that the crucibles that break some people can give rise to serial leaders and learners as well.

Three qualities, in particular, stood out as common to outstanding leaders, young and old:

Adaptive capacity is the ability to learn - about yourself, about the world around you, about what it takes to adjust to, and to make, change.

Engaging others through shared meaning is teaching and, in turn, listening - being an interactive leader, one who can enlist as well as command, and one who is capable of mobilizing the best in people through shared vision.

Integrity is about knowing what you stand for - possessing a strong moral compass - and having the courage of your convictions; it is a process of self-knowledge that provides a core identity and a spine that remains strong even when circumstances demand that you adapt. Integrity is what keeps the leader from becoming a hollow dissembler of a leaf in the wind.

Often a crucible was not just the experience but people gained insight into how they learned.

I liked the short clip about Sydney Harman (founder of Harman-Kardon) who spoke about how his daily journalling gave him insights into what was on his mind.

Surgeon Atul Gawand underscores the central role of practice: People often assume that you have to have great hands to become a surgeon, but it's not true. It is practice that builds skill. I know I need to practice more on those things I which to excel in.

I liked how positive the book was. Even bad experiences can lead to greatness and learning. I liked the books focus on learning and change. It meshes with my belief that as long as I can learn, adapt, change and grow, I can succeed. It is growth that is one of my primary drivers.

Interesting book.


At 10:30 AM, Blogger Stuart R. Crawford said...

Hi Jim, thanks for your book reviews, I have invested in several books based on your reviews and recommendations.


Stuart Crawford
Calgary, AB

At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jim,

Great article!

Were you aware that a crucible isn’t just a vessel used by chemists? It is specifically a (usually ceramic) vessel used to heat things to extremely high temperatures – like for melting metals. Crucibles weren’t and aren’t limited to alchemists so the analogy never has anything to do about success, it always refers to situations of extreme stress.


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