Discover Your Leadership Crucibles With 8 Questions


It’s almost impossible to take stock of yourself and gain self-awareness without guidance from a trusted friend, mentor or coach. To be truly self-aware, you need someone to hold a mirror so you can receive feedback regarding past and present behaviors. You also need healthy doses of courage, honesty and willingness to listen to feedback.

I suggest you begin the discovery process with writing exercises, which you’ll share and discuss with your coach or mentor. Start with difficult childhood experiences that trigger strong emotional reactions in the present.

Learn to regard crucibles as integral to growth as a leader. You can work with your coach or mentor to reframe experiences, mining the valuable life lessons. Old patterns and “tapes” can be replaced with new strategies for handling adversity.

In Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2009), Bill George, Andrew McLean and Nick Craig suggest writing a letter to yourself to describe key crucibles in your life. Present these experiences in one continuous draft, taking as much time and space as you need to complete the letter. Tell the whole story: context, high point, what changed, the emotions you felt, and the consequences and aftereffects.

Answer the following questions as you write:

  • What was the greatest crucible or failure of my life?
  • Why was this experience so challenging for me? (List all reasons.)
  • What was the most stressful, challenging or hard-to-endure point in my story?
  • How did I resolve the crucible experience at the time?
  • In retrospect, how would I reframe it today?
  • Knowing what I now know how would I include others in my learning?
  • What resources did I have at the time, compared to those I have now?
  • Are there emotional scars that must be healed for me to become a better leader?
  • What fundamental insights did my crucible teach me that I can share with others?

In the work I do with leaders, many find that diving into a crucible story reveals important lessons and new understanding about their current leadership habits and practices. And this happens even when the story isn’t new, and has already been discussed many times before.

It’s truly beneficial for anyone to do this work. How about you? What are you willing to dive into?


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