The Alchemy of Leadership

In their classic HBR article, “Crucibles of Courage,” Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas observe, “Why is it that certain people seem to naturally inspire confidence, loyalty, and hard work, while others (who may have just as much vision and smarts) stumble, again and again?” It’s a timeless question, and there’s no simple answer. But we have come to believe it has something to do with the different ways that people deal with adversity.”

“We came to call the experiences that shape leaders ‘crucibles,’ after the vessels medieval alchemists used in therr attempts to turn base metals into gold. For the leaders we interviewed, the crucible experience was the trial and a test, a point of deep self-reflection that forced them to question who they were and what mattered t them. It required them to examine their values, question their assumptions, hone their judgment. And invariably, they emerged from the crucible stronger ad more sure of themselves and their purpose — changed in some fundamental way.”

They focus on the development of four essential leadership skills on which to focus:

    1. Engage others in shared meaning
    2. A distinctive, compelling voice
    3. Integrity
    4. Adaptive capacity

I cannot recall even one great leader throughout history who did not encounter and then struggle to survive what Bennis and Thomas characterize as a “crucible.” Can you?

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Here is a direct link to the complete HBR article. at the University of Southern California and author or co-author of several dozen books.

The late Warren Bennis was a Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Southern California and author or co-author of several dozen books.

Robert J. Thomas is a managing director of Accenture Strategy and author or coauthor of eight books.



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