In 2002, Robert Thomas (the author of this book) and Warren Bennis discovered something important about how leaders developed. They had set out to determine the differences and similarities between young leaders (geeks) and older leaders (geezers).
But the key finding of their book, Geeks and Geezers, turned out to be the importance of the defining moments that shape leaders. Thomas and Bennis called those moments "crucibles."
Crucibles are emotionally charged situations that produce great learning and growth in some leaders. This was something a lot of us knew intuitively, but no one had ever stated or supported with research.
Once upon a time we believed that you could learn leadership from books and classes. Then, slowly, it dawned on the leadership development community that you can learn about leadership from a book or in class, but you learn leadership on the job.
Some of us call that the Apprenticeship Model. And the "academy companies" like GE, Pepsico, and P & G have taken to it with gusto. They've made developmental assignments a core part of their leadership development programs.
Robert Thomas decided to dig deeper into the phenomenon of crucibles. This book shares the results of that research. There are four key findings.
Crucibles contain two vital lessons, not just one. The second lesson is how to learn.
Practice can trump talent.
Outstanding leaders devise a strategy for transforming crucibles into learning.
Organizations can grow leaders faster by helping them learn from experience.
The book is divided into three parts. The first, Experience Matters--But Then What? includes the first four chapters. You'll learn about why some people seem to thrive and grow during a crucible experience while others wither.
There's excellent material on how to learn from a crucible experience and turn it to good. This also where you'll learn about the three types of crucibles.
In part two, Crafting a Personal Learning Strategy, Thomas gets down to the business of teaching us how to learn to be better leaders. The idea is to learn the basic lessons from an experience that you can pass on to others. There are several self-assessments for you to use.
There's another finding here that's very powerful. For leaders, as for other practitioners of a performing art, learning and doing are often one and the same. While you are doing, you are learning. And you learn by performing.
The final major section of the book, The Big Picture, lays out the lessons that organizations can learn from this research when they put together their own leadership development programs.
This is an excellent book. It brings together a number of insights that seem obvious once you've heard them, but that still make you say, "Yes!! That's exactly it!"
Buried in here is a finding that I think is a "missing link" in leadership development. It's the idea that learning and doing are often the same activity for leaders and others who practice performing arts.
If you are a leader, this book will show you how to learn from your experience and get the most value and growth from it. If you are responsible for leadership development for others, you'll learn how to use the natural way that people learn to lead as a core of your program.