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Crucible Leadership – A Pathway To Resilience And Impact

Written by: Dr. Helen Ofosu, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Dr. Helen Ofosu

As demands on modern leaders continue to evolve, more and more is expected of workplace leadership. New paradigms are emerging that challenge traditional notions of what it means to lead effectively. One such concept is the notion of "Crucible Leadership." In my opinion, this has been an under-appreciated and overlooked construct.

Group of business people meeting in a seminar conference

Research reported by Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas in the Harvard Business Review in September 2002 noted that one of the best predictors of leadership is a person’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most difficult circumstances. In other words, the skills needed to survive adversity and emerge stronger and even more committed are the same ones associated with extraordinary leaders.


What is crucible leadership?


Crucible leadership is the art of leading through adversity, personal transformation, and resilience. Leaders who embody crucible leadership have often faced significant personal or professional trials or hardships that have tested their perseverance, character, and adaptability.


Crucible moments are the turning points in a leader's journey, characterized by setbacks, failures, or profound personal experiences. These moments force leaders to confront their limitations, adapt their strategies, and reassess their values. The crucible experience becomes a catalyst for introspection, leading to a deeper understanding of one's strengths, weaknesses, and purpose.


Navigating the crucible moments


Like metal undergoing a transformation from intense heat and pressure, people change and grow when faced with difficult circumstances. As those who demonstrate crucible leadership go through their own challenges, these challenges define their strength, adaptability, and potential.


Crucible leaders don't just survive these tough situations – they find ways to thrive. They come out of these experiences as more capable and compassionate leaders, with a better grasp of who they are, a heightened ability to understand others' feelings and perspectives, and a knack for handling complex problems with wisdom.


The journey through their personal crucible(s) molds their leadership approach, enabling them to more deeply connect with their teams and make thoughtful choices based on their firsthand knowledge of conquering hardships.


Strength from struggle?


I have had the privilege of working with countless professionals who are Black, Indigenous, people of color, members of the LGBTQ2S+ communities, living with visible or invisible disabilities, and religious minorities. One theme that comes up repeatedly, and which I address in my book, How to Be Resilient in Your Career: Facing up to Barriers at Work, is that often, the challenges associated with being part of an underrepresented and equity-deserving group force these individuals into a series of crucibles that make them phenomenal leaders.


Key principles of crucible leadership


Resilience as a Foundation – Resilience is an essential ingredient for anyone’s career development and career management. Some people think that they may only have a certain amount of resiliency – but I think it’s something that we can learn and develop. Crucible leaders develop unique forms of stamina and resilience that stem from their ability to withstand adversity, bounce back from setbacks, and maintain a positive outlook even in the face of challenges.


Authenticity – Authenticity can be risky. Many people downplay who they actually are, and actively cover up aspects of their identities that they believe are unwelcome and stigmatized. Finding ways to live their truth becomes a source of strength for crucible leaders. They openly (but selectively) share their experiences, failures, and personal growth journeys, fostering a culture of authenticity and trust within their teams.


Empathy and Compassion – Having navigated their own crucibles, these leaders possess a deep sense of empathy and compassion. I think of leaders like Angela Merkel and Jacinda Arden, who stand out on the male-dominated international stage for their compassionate, empathetic, yet decisive leadership. They can relate to the struggles of others and offer genuine support, creating an environment of mutual understanding.


Adaptive Decision-Making – Crucible experiences are often “do or die,” so these leaders develop flexible thinking and adaptive decision-making. These people had to learn to embrace change, adjust their strategies, and make informed choices even in uncertain situations. It’s recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all within the workplace; what works in a creative company likely isn’t the same approach as for a manufacturing facility or warehouse.


Legacy of Growth – A crucible leader's journey becomes a source of inspiration for others. They’re motivated by self-development and create an environment that’s conducive to growth and encourages people both personally and professionally. By sharing their growth experiences, they instill a sense of purpose, motivation, and determination to overcome challenges collectively.


Benefits of Crucible Leadership Crucible leadership offers numerous benefits to leaders, their teams, and others. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on two: enhanced team cohesion and innovation/adaptability.


Enhanced Team Cohesion – By sharing their experiences, crucible leaders can foster a sense of unity, inclusion, and shared purpose within their teams. People can identify with those struggles and challenges and feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.


Innovation and Adaptability – The adaptive mindset of crucible leaders encourages a culture of innovation and flexibility, enabling teams to thrive in rapidly changing environments. Through their example, especially when the leader themselves is from an equity-deserving group or inclusive, these leaders set a tone. Team members who can be their authentic selves spend less energy “covering” at work and more time on being innovative and creative.


Embrace your crucible


None of us look forward to adversity or negative events. But, when we live long enough, we’re sure to encounter both. The next time you’re struggling in a difficult chapter or season, above and beyond surviving, if possible, also consider it as a chance to work on your crucible leadership.


Crucible leadership is often associated with personal growth and transformation, as these leaders draw strength from their challenges and use their experiences to inspire and guide others. It emphasizes authenticity, humility, and a commitment to continuous learning, making it a powerful and impactful approach to leadership.


In a world characterized by constant change, crucible leadership offers a fresh approach to guiding others.


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter/X, and visit my website to find more ways to become more resilient in your career.

Dr. Helen Ofosu Brainz Magazine
 

Dr. Helen Ofosu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Dr. Helen Ofosu has been practising Industrial / Organizational Psychology (also known as Work or Business Psychology) in the public and private sectors for almost 20 years. In addition to Career and Executive Coaching, her specialties include the assessment and development of leadership skills, and navigating the complex issues of workplace bullying, harassment, diversity and inclusion. Dr. Ofosu is one of the founding officers of the Section on Black Psychology, Canadian Psychological Association and she’s thrilled to have written a new book “How to be Resilient in Your Career: Facing Up to Barriers at Work” that was published by Routledge in February 2023.

 

For more about Crucible Leadership, consider reading:

  • Bennis, W. and Thomas, R. J. (September 2002). Crucibles of Leadership. Accessed on September 23, 2023, from Harvard Business Review, from https://hbr.org/

  • Lohrenz, C. (December 28, 2021). Crucible Moments are the Keys to Your Success. Accessed on September 23, 2023, from Forbes.com

  • Screen, L. (May 11, 2020). Transformational Leadership in Crucible Moments. Georgetown ITL Blog. Accessed on September 23, 2023, from https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/

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