Exposure to (challenging) experiences is the key to leadership development (Thomas, Lombardo & Eichenger, and many others). This is great news to those with little or no development budget to spend on fancy programmes.
How though can you get the most from these learning opportunities, or crucibles? Spot them. Grab them. Exploit them.
Some argue that crucibles can be hard to spot – but I disagree. Keep an eye out for these clues and you’re probably looking at a crucible
- There’s a big problem and you have no idea how to tackle it
- You’re in new territory. You’re disoriented and don’t know how to navigate the landscape.
- Something you thought was stable turns out to be impermanent
- A loss or failure has happened
- A pause. An extended period of reflection and deliberation is happening
Being on the edge of what we don’t know is a scary place. It could be the right time to grab a crucible when:
- You feel consistently frustrated with a situation or dilemma, or challenge so that you want to tackle it
- You are on the cusp of what you don’t know
- It is an area of your life you care about deeply and are motivated to do something about
- There is sufficient support to be able to persist in the face of anxiety and conflict
- You accept you will make mistakes
- You accept you may fail but will learn from the failure
Inside the crucible is where the development is. You can exploit a crucible when the following come together:
- Prepare – learn to separate fact from perception, ask penetrating questions, observe, and be honest about your own motives, aspirations, values, stereotypes and expectations.
- Act – practice over and over. Each performance is a learning opportunity
- Reflect – how did it go? What have you learned? How did others experience you?
- Support – ask trusted, critical friends to support you and hold the mirror up
Organisations would do well to assist individuals to exploit the learning opportunities already to hand. The role is to aid leaders to spot (and create) opportunities, prepare for and adapt to new experiences, reflect and learn from them, and continually renew themselves as leaders.