Do you need to overcome a huge challenge — a crucible — to lead or reach the top?

August 5, 2015 by Joshua
in Leadership

Many people believe you have to overcome a huge challenge forced on you to lead or to reach the top—the Harvard Business Review article “Crucibles of Leadership,” for example.

I tend not to agree. I don’t see the necessity of overcoming a huge challenge forced on you from the outside. Logically, one counterexample will show you don’t need such a challenge. To suggest people need crucibles fits too much into the pattern of romanticizing people who attain what others wish they could: “Oh, I could have become great like so-and-so but life just never gave me the challenge they got.” It feels like an excuse for complacency. It also sounds like a story that sells copy. Even the word, “crucible,” sounds exotic.

Steve Martin’s memoir made a big impression on me for his sticking to his goals over a long time, as I wrote in “Thoughts on reading Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up”.” He may be more of a performer than organizational leader, but he led some major changes in the performance world and was the first to sell out stadiums, I believe.

I don’t see overcoming challenging odds, taking on big challenges, or working hard as a crucible. If you can stop when you want, it seems a choice, which doesn’t feel like a crucible. Michael Jordan faced challenges but don’t seem like a crucible.

Sorry I don’t have a firm answer. I’m wondering myself. I hope someone might have more examples of people who took up challenges and overcame them without facing crucibles.


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