Advertising
Advertising

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

    Advertising

      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.

        Advertising

        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?

          Advertising

          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.

              Advertising

              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

                More by this author

                Dr. Jamie Schwandt

                Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

                10 Hacks to Increase Your Brain IQ, Focus and Creativity 9 Game Changing Tips on How to Write Goals (and Reach Them!) Creative Brain Test: 10 Best Ways To Test Your Creative Intelligence How to Be a Maverick and Develop a Maverick Mindset Being Self Aware Is the Key to Success: How to Boost Self Awareness

                Trending in Smartcut

                1 The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career 2 How to Be a Successful Businessman (The Complete Guide) 3 How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work 4 Best 5 Language Learning Apps to Easily Master a New Language 5 Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

                Read Next

                Advertising
                Advertising
                Advertising

                Published on January 16, 2019

                How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

                We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

                You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

                You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

                That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

                Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

                1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

                Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

                We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

                To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

                At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

                The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

                2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

                Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

                The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

                In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

                It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

                It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

                Advertising

                So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

                • Are you a great strategist?
                • Are you an effective planner?
                • Is Project Management your strength?
                • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
                • Are you the ideas person?
                • Is Implementation your strength?

                Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

                3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

                One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

                Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

                Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

                Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

                4. Take Time for Planning

                “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

                One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

                You can take the time to think about:

                • What’s the purpose of the project?
                • How Important is it?
                • When does it need to be delivered by?
                • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
                • What are the KPIs?
                • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
                • Who is working on this project?
                • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
                • What tolerances can I add in?
                • What are the review stages?
                • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

                Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

                5. Focus on Priorities

                Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

                Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

                One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

                1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
                2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
                3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
                4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

                James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

                Advertising

                  The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

                  If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

                  If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

                  6. Take Time Out

                  To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

                  If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

                  Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

                  In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

                  Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

                  7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

                  Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

                  I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

                  Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

                  If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

                  8. Stop Multitasking

                  Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

                  So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

                  When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

                  Advertising

                  If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

                  9. Work in Blocks of Time

                  To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

                  I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

                  Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

                  Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

                  Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

                  Then take another 10-minute break.

                  Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

                  By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

                  10. Get Rid of Distractions

                  Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

                  “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

                  Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

                  If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

                  11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

                  You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

                  Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

                  Advertising

                  Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

                  12. Take a Time Audit

                  Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

                  Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

                  You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

                  Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

                  Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

                  At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

                  If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

                  13. Protect Your Confidence

                  It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

                  When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

                  Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

                  When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

                  Final Words

                  A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

                  The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

                  If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

                  Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

                  Reference

                  Read Next