Growing as a leader, like growing as a person, means learning from difficult times. I call these times crucibles, and I’m sorry to say that every person on the planet will have to endure a few. Your crucibles may include the death of someone you love, a major illness, a divorce, or a professional failure. As a leader, you must learn to process difficult times in a way that allows you to come out on the other side stronger – and inspire those around you.
Great leaders have learned how to turn troubles into treasure. I was inspired by so many of the leaders I interviewed in Discover Your True North, as they told me about incredibly painful crucibles and how they used them as opportunities to learn and grow.
When is a setback a leap?
In a blog post on Psychology Today, licensed psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., compared the path to success to a childhood game where one tries to roll a metal ball through a maze to reach the other side. In the game, as you may find in your life and career, you learn how to move forward each time you hit a wall; you choose a different route.
Have you ever come to a place where your growth felt stifled so you accepted a lower-paying position with more upward mobility? Have you decided to spend less time at work because of a health related issue or to devote more time to your family? Each of these points in your life, even if in the moment it felt like you were losing momentum, was a chance to refocus, reevaluate and charge forward renewed.
Reframing how you think about a setback
The healthy way to approach a crucible is to look at it from a different perspective – a higher perspective. Ask yourself: Is this a time to become downtrodden, or is this a challenge from which I can learn? By viewing obstacles as opportunities, you’ll find that, over time, perseverance becomes a part of your nature. Others will see perseverance in you as a leader.
Aaron Beck, M.D. (considered the father of cognitive-behavior therapy [CBT]), developed a psychiatric practice in which patients and physicians evaluate how a person’s thought process affects behavior. In an article about the future of the therapy he developed, Beck recounts a conversation he had on the way to a conference.
Recently a taxi driver asked me what I was going to do at the conference he was taking me to, and I answered that I was going to discuss cognitive therapy. He asked, “What’s that?” and I said, “It has to do with the way people talk to themselves.” He said, “Oh, I thought that’s why they go to a psychiatrist in the first place.” I said, “Well, yes, but we teach them how to answer themselves.”
The applications of CBT are wide-ranging, but the fundamentals of Beck’s work deal with how thoughts affect outcomes. This practice can be incredibly valuable to you. Take a minute to think about an obstacle you faced. If you were to reframe the crucible in your mind and talk to yourself differently, could you glean more from the experience?
How are you “talking to yourself” about the crucibles you face?
Beck recommends approaching yourself in a compassionate way. Accepting your experiences as part of your growth allows you to think through events and efficiently pursue the success and happiness you have in mind. Clarity of thought allows you to keep an eye on your True North in the distance.
The next time you face a difficult time, take a moment to think about the situation in a way that removes blame and frustration. Think about what the circumstances teach you about your nature, how you reacted toward the people around you and what you would like to change the next time the winds pick up.
Moving forward with a different mindset
As you continue to pursue your True North as a leader, be sure to pause regularly and think about the moments in life that defined your character. Over time, this will enable you react to adversity differently. It will also help you become a more compassionate, well-rounded leader, as you’ll be freshly reminded that the people around you have also experienced crucibles along their journeys.
Learn more about this topic in Chapter 3: Crucibles