Buried Leadership Treasures


I’ve seen this many times in the work I do as a coach: Someone shares their story, but it’s a watered down version. Mistakes and failures are minimized. Success is underlined. I suggest that when leaders do this, they are not harnessing their full story for their own growth and development of capacity nor for its teaching potential.

It’s inherently difficult for us to reflect on painful moments, so the lessons may be buried or forgotten on a conscious level. But pain forms memories that subconsciously affect our current behaviors.

Viewed in retrospect, a crucible may become a defining moment in your life, even if you cannot recognize it as it’s happening. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to question your most basic assumptions, principles and values. To determine how you want to show up in the world.

Conflicts, challenges and early-life difficulties all contribute to crucible moments. For many of us, a crucible may not initially consciously appear to be a loss or hardship. But as you reflect on it, you’ll discover the many ways in which events influence your unconscious behaviors.

Some underlying memories are carried into adulthood, undermining your coping skills until you uncover, acknowledge and understand their impact on your life.


From Principles to Practice

Business experts once believed we could master leadership skills by reading books and taking classes. It slowly dawned on them that we must practice leadership on the job.

Acquiring leadership skills requires implementation and experience. As with any other performance art, deliberate practice is necessary. We learn to be effective leaders by interacting with other people and groups.

Some experts call this the “apprenticeship model,” and “academy companies” like GE, PepsiCo and P&G have taken it to heart, making developmental assignments a core part of their leadership-development programs.

Thomas offers additional insights in Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2008):

  1. Practice can trump talent.
  2. Outstanding leaders devise a strategy for transforming crucibles into learning.
  3. Organizations can grow leaders faster by helping them learn from experience.

Making difficult choices that lead to growth gives us a more generous self-perception. We, in turn, survive crucibles with greater confidence and tolerance for taking risks thus thriving.

In what ways are you stepping over the valuable lessons of leadership contained within your stories of adversity? I’d love to hear from you.


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