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Last Updated on January 30, 2018

The Best Way to Success Is to Be Severely Tested

The Best Way to Success Is to Be Severely Tested

Want to know the best way to get to success in life? You must be severely tested.

What if I were to tell you that the essential skills of successful leaders are the same as the skills that allow a person to find the meaning of an adverse experience? Would you believe me?

In Crucibles of Leadership, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas argue that strong leaders are those who overcome adversity. In interviewing more than 40 top leaders in the world, they uncovered a surprising conclusion. They found that all of the leaders interviewed, both young and old, were able to point to intense, often traumatic, always unplanned experiences that had transformed them.

Bennis and Thomas call these experiences crucibles. So, what is a crucible?

What Is a Crucible?

    A crucible is literally a container that can withstand extremely high temperatures. Think of a metal container in which metals are melted. This is the container you would use to fill a mold with liquid metal.

    A crucible can also be that of a severe trial, in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new. A metaphor for this is – a relationship was forged in the “crucible” of war.

    For our purposes here, a crucible is a transformative event involving a severe test or trial – where the crucibles are intense, often traumatic, and always unplanned.

    Crucible Experience

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      For the leaders interviewed by Bennis and Thomas, the crucible experience was even more than a trial or test, it was a point of deep self-reflection that forced a leader to question who they were and what mattered to them.

      They found leaders were transformed from the experience and came away with an altered sense of identity. These experiences required each leader to question their perceptions of reality. In turn, they emerged from their crucible experience stronger and with a sense of purpose. Bennis and Thomas concluded that they were all significantly changed in some fundamental way.

      The crucible stories discussed were similar to my own. As a child growing up in a destructive life and in the foster care system, I immediately related to these stories. Some crucible experiences illuminate a hidden and suppressed area of the soul. I found that some of my own personal stories were hidden deep within my own soul.

      I have previously discussed some of my experiences in my book Succeeding as a Foster Child, yet I have not previously thought of them as crucibles until now. My crucible experiences, at times, were among the harshest a person should experience. They took the form of roughly my entire early life as a child and into early adulthood. My parents brought forth the majority of these experiences.

      My father committed suicide when I was 18 years old. He seemed to have spent his life in and out of darkness. He was an alcoholic – yet, in the end – drugs, depression, and a rifle in his own hands took his life. My mother is still living; however, in a shell of the person she could have been. She is an alcoholic, yet her vice is drugs. Growing up with my mother was a dangerous experience. She was severely beaten by different men and would expose her children to nightmarish experiences. One such experience at the age of ten, found me walking through a drug-infested mobile home trying to avoid stepping on used needles just to go to the bathroom.

      Darkness Will Not Win

        Around the age of 12, I was placed into foster care – where surprisingly, my transformation started to begin. I was placed into a foster home in a small town in Kansas – Kensington, Kansas. [1]

        The people in this town shared with me the power of building relationships. I now understand how relationships provide purpose and meaning in my life. I came to believe that when people feel strong about something, most of the time they will succeed.

        I would do extremely well for a while in foster care, yet I could not continue moving forward as I would return to my biological parents. Essentially, I began to move back into their darkness. However, I would always find my way back to Kensington. Every time I found my way back to this small town, my consciousness would be raised to a higher level. One foster parent in particular (Robert Bearley) helped me raise my consciousness.

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        I found that every time I left my mother and father that I was able to understand my environment better. By better understanding my environment, I was then able to start to understand that I was in control of my own reality. However, it took a while and some additional crucible experiences for me to truly grasp this.

        Developing Future Leaders Through Crucible Experiences

        I specifically remember a couple key events during my teenage years that established the foundation for my life as a leader in today’s military. One such moment established the foundation for what would become a career in leadership and lifelong learning. Robert Bearley helped me establish a set of values. He demonstrated to me one of the same points described by Bennis and Thomas – that life is not about rewards or results, but it’s about what you do and how you go about achieving those results. Essentially, he showed me the importance of the process in achieving something and how great leaders care about the process just as much as the result.

        Moreover, at the age of 16, I remember picking up my mother from a hotel room, where she was staying with an unknown man. She was both drunk and high at the same time. I pulled her out of the hotel room and took her on a long road trip to my grandparent’s. I was living with my father at the time and I remember wanting to get back to the Kensington community. I was no longer in foster care, yet I wanted to live with my grandparents who lived near the community. They told me the only way I would be allowed to live with them is if I could bring my mother home. I remember the experience vividly, yet previous crucible experiences allowed me to carry out this task as if it was a normal occurrence.

        Looking back, I wonder if I could have done this without living the previous 16 years in hell. Imagine pulling a prostitute out of a hotel room, one who is both drunk and high. Now imagine that prostitute is your mother.

        The Best Way to Get There Is to Be Tested

        It took quite a few failures and horrible situations throughout my life, but each one of these experiences or crucibles created who I am today. These crucibles established a lifelong enjoyment for reading, writing, thinking, and the pursuit of knowledge. These experiences developed a specific mindset to live by. They created a maverick mindset and a no fear approach to questioning everything.

        I emerged from these crucibles knowing that nothing can break me. Each test or each crucible changed me fundamentally as a person. Where others, to include my younger brother, found despair, I found opportunity from each crucible.

        Essentials of Leadership

          Bennis and Thomas asked one key question in their research. Let’s take a look at the question and what they found to be the answer.[2]

          Question: So, what allowed these people to not only cope with these difficult situations but also learn from them?

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          Answer: We believe that great leaders possess four essential skills, and we were surprised to learn that these happen to be the same skills that allow a person to find meaning in what could be a debilitating experience.

          So, what are those essential skills of successful leaders and those that allow a person to find meaning from an adverse experience? Just don’t forget that they are the same.

          Four Essential Skills

          1. The ability to engage others in shared meaning. Think of my discussion of relationships in foster care. When we feel strongly enough about something, we increase our likelihood of success.
          2. A distinctive and compelling voice. Think of examples throughout history of people who used the power of words to bring about change. Here, I think of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and even leaders from my time in foster care.
          3. Sense of integrity. Think of the discussion about establishing a strong set of values in foster care.
          4. Adaptive capacity. Bennis and Thomas inform us that this is by far the most critical skill of the four. They explain that this is applied creativity and is a magical ability to transcend adversity, with all its attendant stress – to emerge stronger than before.

          Learn to Be a Chameleon

            Bennis and Thomas explain that adaptive capacity is composed of a combination of two primary qualities.

            1. Ability to grasp context. This is our ability to see multiple perspectives of a situation and connect with people. For me, this was my ability to see past insults and the stigma associated with being a foster child.
            2. Hardiness. This is perseverance and toughness enabling people to emerge from a traumatic event without losing hope. For me personally, this was my ability to remain healthy despite living a difficult life. I do not drink, smoke, or do drugs because of what I witnessed. Yet, my younger brother took the opposite route and has developed similar health and addiction problems to that of my parents.

            Adaptive capacity allows a person to not just survive a horrible or traumatic event, but to learn from it, and to emerge stronger and more committed than ever before. Essentially, this is what turns the situation into a crucible or transformative event.

            Post-traumatic Growth (PTG)

              I do not disagree with anything provided in Crucibles of Leadership, but something is missing. The missing component is Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) and should be added as a skill within or after adaptive capacity. We can all persevere and become stronger (think hardiness), yet PTG better explains growth from the crucible experience.

              PTG is a positive psychological change experienced as a result of adversity and other challenges in order to rise to a higher level of functioning.[3] Furthermore, PTG is not about returning to the same life as before, but to become better after the life-changing event. Here, the life-changing event is the crucible. This contributes to an intimate process of personal change, providing a purpose that is deeply meaningful.

              One key point contrasting PTG from hardiness, perseverance, or resilience is that PTG refers to a change in a person that goes far beyond the ability to resist. Essentially, not to be damaged by the traumatic event. Moreover, there are certain characteristics of PTG. Let’s take a look at each and how they apply to my story.

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              Characteristics of PTG:

              • Greater appreciation of life. It would have been easy for me to give up and follow in my parent’s footsteps.
              • Changed sense of priorities. As a leader in the military, my experiences as a foster child established the importance of setting the right priorities in my life. If I have the wrong priorities, my soldiers and family will have the wrong priorities.
              • Warmer, more intimate relationships. I now have an unbelievably great relationship with two beautiful girls – my wife and young daughter.
              • Greater sense of personal strength. The crucibles of my life as a young child have provided me a powerful maverick mindset.
              • Recognition of new possibilities of paths for life and spiritual development. The small community I lived in during my time in foster care provided me an awareness of what could be possible. Spiritual development played a huge role during this time in my life and saved my life.

              Crucibles Create Strong Leaders

                My personal experience through each crucible has made a profound impact on my role as an organization-level leader in the U.S. Army. Bennis and Thomas explain that the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is our ability to find meaning from negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances. In my career field, failing to possess this mindset can literally get you killed – either by an enemy or by your own hand.

                The skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders. Leaders who recognize this will develop and lead organizations with a positive organizational climate.

                My crucible experiences developed a person who is perfect for the military. By this I mean, if I see a dangerous situation or if I notice someone is in danger, I will not hesitate to leap into action. I will not hesitate to help someone in physical and life-threatening danger.

                Each crucible experience changed me for the better. After each crucible, I did not return to the same life as before, but became better after the life-changing event – even if I did not realize it at the time.

                Finally, let me share with you one last personal example. If you ask my wife, I love cloudy weather and enjoy the rain. One of my crucible experiences took place during a storm. Every time it rains I remind myself that nothing can kill me – not my parents and not the storm. The rain is my reminder that I will never fear a person or the storm again.

                Reference

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                Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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                The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

                Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

                “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

                In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

                New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

                There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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                So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

                What is the productivity paradox?

                There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

                In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

                He wrote in his conclusion:

                “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

                Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

                How do we measure productivity anyway?

                And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

                In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

                But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

                In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

                But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

                Possible causes of the productivity paradox

                Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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                • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
                • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
                • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
                • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

                There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

                According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

                Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

                The paradox and the recession

                The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

                “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

                This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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                According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

                Looking forward

                A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

                “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

                Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

                “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

                On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

                Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

                Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                Reference

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