Monday, September 26, 2011

Quotes from Crucibles of Leadership by Robert J. Thomas

"During the question and answer period following the class, I’d asked Tharp what was to her mind the biggest difference between practice and performance. She looked at me quizzically, as if I’d asked a truly boneheaded question. But then, patiently, she explained that practice and performance were part of the same thing . . . that when a dancer practices she thinks about the performance and when she performs she notices the things she ought to practice more. In fact, Tharp added, the key is to practice while you perform, and vice versa. I told Bennis that I thought the same thing ought to apply to leaders. He leaned forward over the remnants of our breakfast and fixed me with his steely eyes. “Kid,” he said, “you’ve got something there. Build on it.”"

"While experience matters, what matters more is what one makes of experience: how a person comes to recognize in a crucible experience that something new or important is happening, to see beyond the discomfort, perhaps even the pain, of new and unexpected information and to incorporate that information as useful knowledge, not just about the world but, as likely, about oneself."

"Rather than wait for the right moment to arrive, they discover and exploit learning opportunities. Rather than partition their lives into periods of action and periods of reflection, they do both, often on a daily basis, sometimes in precisely the same moment. Rather than complain about the scarcity of time to learn, they make time. Like accomplished performers in sports or music or the arts, they practice as strenuously as they perform. And when, as often happens to organizational leaders, they find themselves onstage much of the time, they learn how to practice while they perform—not simply to learn by doing, but to learn while doing."

"Rupp said his leader’s words had such an effect on him that he wrote them down. “That situation taught me a great lesson: that I should not be so focused on myself and look at situations only as how they affect me.”

"Second, the more frequent experience of new territory among leaders at the beginning and toward the end of their careers suggests that they share something in common. In Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis and I drew attention to neoteny: a characteristic of older leaders who’d remained active and vital across eras and organizations. Neoteny, we argued, is the quality of retaining youthful habits and behaviors, like curiosity, and openness to experience, and surprise, well into one’s later years. The collection of crucibles seems to suggest that those who continue to explore new territory as they age are likely to remain vital and active as leaders. This was borne out in the interviews with people like Walter Sondheim, John Wooden, Sidney Harman, Warren Bennis, and Frances Hesselbein, who recounted for us new territory crucibles they had experienced over the past ten years."

"Like a stretched rubber band, a crucible embodies potential energy—energy that can be released productively or unproductively. In the following sections, we’ll consider examples of each type of crucible, first in the context of lessons they have to teach about leadership and then through the lens of lessons that each type has to teach about learning."

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