two men standing and pouring liquid glass or metal

What time in your career did you develop the most as a leader? Was it pressure filled and challenging or fairly easy? We all develop the most when put under the pressure to perform. One definition of a crucible is a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development.

Crucibles have the greatest impact on our development because of the pressures forcing us to adapt. What were the elements of your crucible? How well prepared were you for it? Could you have even gained greater development if there had been some preparation, knew it was coming, or had a plan?

To plan your leadership growth, consider how to create a crucible for yourself, others, or your team. Why? To accelerate growth. Isn’t that why corporations send high potentials to courses such as the National Outdoor Leadership School or Outward Bound? To proactively put leaders into a crucible.

My experience has shown a successful crucible has the following conditions:

Education & Training / Experience. The education and training category provides background and opportunity to build and test skills in a non-threatening environment. The experience put the skills learned to the test. No experience – no leadership development.

Ever experience a situation with no education and training on what to expect in a situation? We all have and we learned and grew extensively from those experiences, although it was likely a painful process. Hence the recommendation; provide education and training prior to experience.

Under those two categories are three elements; Right Level and Timing, Right Challenge, and Feedback & Reflection. These conditions are required for both the Education & Training and Experience. Let’s look at each of them.

The Right Level/Timing means design both the education/training and experience to the appropriate level. New employees at the same level as veteran employees may need different levels of training and education. Where the person fits in the hierarchy dictates the level required. Directors get a level significantly different than this year’s crop of new college grads.

Timing is also critical. Fit the education/training into a business cycle that will allow for integration with the current workflow. Make it all work together. Education/Training during a slower time may allow putting the individual into the experience phase during a busier cycle.

Assigning the Right Challenge means to thoughtfully consider a number of factors such as longevity, experience, and career track. Is there a specific sequence to the challenges that makes the most sense? Think of this as developing a personalize leadership development curriculum. If assigned properly this is where the intense heat of the crucible will be felt. Application of what was learned is tested in the real world, adaptability, and perseverance are the typical skills that rise to the surface in this phase.

Simple challenges easily mastered provide limited growth. Nothing should be easily mastered – design rigor into the model by the choice of level, timing, and the specific challenge.

Feedback and Reflection is where the most learning occurs. Consider how to provide feedback with time to reflect. No reflection = minimal learning. The most dramatic change occurs when individuals are able to incorporate lessons they have internalized through reflection.

Final Thoughts  

The proposed model is a method to deliberately take control of leadership development in your organization. It can be for you personally, for other individuals, or a team you are leading. This model also works for teams. Being proactive and thoughtful allows you to extract the most from leadership development opportunities.


Test the concept by building a prototype for yourself, a team, or a few select others. Test it evaluate it (feedback & reflection), tweak it, and do it again.