Patti Smith broke down in the middle of her performance at the Nobel Prize ceremony last year. She was overcome with nervousness while singing in front of the King and Queen of Sweden and the Nobel laureates. She had chosen to sing A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall in honour of her childhood hero, Bob Dylan, who was being honoured as the Nobel Laureate in Literature.
When the words did not come, she stopped and tearfully apologised. The audience applauded her and encouraged her to complete the song. Later they praised her and told her that her performance seemed like a metaphor for their own struggles.
Leadership is a bit like a public performance. No matter how well prepared you are, it does not always go your way. By definition, if you are a game-changing leader, you will encounter obstacles, resistance and setbacks. The question is how do we deal with those inevitable occasions?
In one whole sense leadership is pretty easy when everything is going well. There is not much to do really except keep the ship on course.
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.
But it is in the challenging moments that we need to step up our leadership. We need to find something that we did not know we had.
Warren Bennis and Robert J Thomas call these experiences that shape leaders, “crucible experiences,” named after the vessels that medieval alchemists used to attempt to turn base metals into gold. They argue that challenging experiences help define us as leaders. They suggest that, “The skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.”
Patti Smith said, “….in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? ……..It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?”
What are the crucible experiences that have defined your leadership?
Best regards, Brian
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