Monday, 26 March 2012

Living the crucibles of life

I wrote a  post on 28th January , 2012  entitled"Multiply Growth through developing Leaders" and ended  it by saying "We should all be looking for ways in which we can develop leadership in our society and organisations .Do you have any ideas on this ?"  Since then ,  I have been in search for  finding  answers to the questions like:How can we  learn to lead?How we sustain our  passion for leading so as to lead for a life time?The book ''Geeks and Geezers" that I read recently has partly attempted to supply some of the  answers, and I intend to share these in this post .
                                                    All of us experience the periods of testing, turning points, defining events or intense experiences which force us to ask ourselves who we are and what we are capable of .Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas  call these experiences "crucibles of leadership" in chapter 4 of their  book "Geeks and Geezers - How Era, Values and defining Moments Shape Leaders". Some examples of crucibles are failures , imprisonment , death, humiliation. Crucible is a metaphor  for the circumstances  that cause an individual  to be utterly transformed.Crucibles provide us with the frameworks for self introspection and force us to answer the questions:Who am I?Who could I be?Who should I be?How should I relate to the world outside myself?
But crucibles exist in real time, everywhere and all the time-"Boring meetings , Unspoken grievances.Closed doors.Unexplained actions.Unemployed talents.Subtle rejections.The "little murders" that deplete energy and lower self esteem.Belief systems that require questioning, dozing like sacred cows."These unnoticed  crucibles are the most potent and useful opportunities for learning to lead.Do you recollect your own crucible moments, how they changed you , how they helped you to find your voice and create your own story?
Warren Bennis is Professor and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.Robert J. Thomas is Associate Partner  and Senior Fellow with the Accenture Institute for Strategy Change.The two authors have written this interesting and revealing book of 215 pages, after interviewing  a group of 43 leaders from 21 years to 93 years old.
I must confess that reading about crucibles , I remembered Viktor E. Frankl's book"Man's Search for Meaning".How Frankl escaped the death narrowly in concentration camps of Auschwitz, and emerged out stronger as a world renowned author and leader."According to a survey conducted by the Book of the Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man's Search For Meaning belongs to a list of "the ten most influential books in the United States." (New York Times, November 20, 1991). At the time of the author's death in 1997, the book had sold 10 million copies in twenty-four languages"(Wikipedia).The question is how , when faced with extreme challenges and crucibles , some people become leaders while others give way and pass into nothingness ?

Leaders have four essential  skills , competencies or qualities .
1.Adaptive capacity.We must develop the capacity to adapt to change .We must not be inflexible in our conventions and habits"Beware of the prisons you build to protect yourself". John Gardner.Adaptive capacity has five parts:Hardiness,First-class noticer,Learning learning,proactively seizing opportunities, creativity.
2.The ability to engage others  in shared meaning.This has three parts:Encourage dissent , Empathy , Obsessive communication.
3.A distinctive and compelling voice.It has four parts:Purpose,self awareness,self confidence,Emotional quotient.
4.Integrity. Integrity is composed of three elements
Ambition ( desire to achieve something, whether for personal gain or the good of the community or both),Competence,Moral Compass.The authors call these three elements "The Integrity Tripod".
It is intriguing why authors introduced the concept of crucible and essential leadership qualities  only for leaders below35 years(Geeks) and above 70 years(Geezers) .I think , it is equally applicable to leaders in the age group between 35 years to 70 years .The authors say:"We believe that we have identified the process that allows an  individual to undergo testing and to emerge, not just stronger, but better equipped with the tools he or she needs both to lead and to learn.It is a model that explains how individuals make meaning out of  difficult events- we call them crucibles- and show that process of 'meaning making' both galvanises individuals and gives them their distinctive  voice."
The process of becoming leaders involves learning  to identify such crucibles and to leap in.It also involves developing the four essential qualities of leadership  .
 If we want to continue leading , learning and feeling well ,we need to develop the quality of neoteny. "The dictionary defines neoteny, a zoological term, as "the retention of youthful qualities by adults." Neoteny is more than retaining a youthful appearance, although that is often part of it. Neoteny is the retention of all those wonderful qualities that we associate with youth: curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy. Unlike those defeated by time and age, our geezers have remained much like our geeks—open, willing to take risks, hungry for knowledge and experience, courageous, eager to see what the new day brings. Time and loss steal the zest from the unlucky, and leave them looking longingly at the past. Neoteny is a metaphor for the quality—the gift—that keeps the fortunate of whatever age focused on all the marvelous undiscovered things to come."Further, the ability to continue learning and learning how to learn is an essential skill of leadership for life.Lastly ,  we need to provide potential leaders with opportunities to learn and practice their craft.