It is word that we don’t hear too often and use even less. In fact, you may be wondering or asking — What is a “crucible?” If so, you are not alone. The very word sounds like something out of the Middle Ages.
In reality, however, it is a very good word. One that is quite contemporary and has value and meaning for today. So, you are asking, what is a crucible?
In short, a crucible is an opportunity, test or emergency that summons the very best of a person and reveals their finest inner qualities. Once a person, especially a potential leader, experiences a crucible, they are transformed forever. The crucible is a challenge or crisis that proves the character capacity within a person and becomes a defining moment in their life’s journey.
As I have read and reflected on the qualities of the crucible even in my own life, several have surface that I would share with you today. Allow me to begin.
Every emerging leader experiences it. Leadership at every level has to be tested and proven and the only way it happens is through the crucible. First of all, the crucible is a necessary test for leaders to find courage. Secondly, the crucible shows the leader’s followers whether or not they can place their trust in the leader.
Under heavy artillery fire, it was necessary for Harry S. Truman to find out if he had enough courage to hold his ground. But the course of his life changed forever when, as a young man, he signed up for the army to fight in World War I. He was shipped off to France as the head of an artillery battery. While important to him, the crucible was equally important for the soldiers in his platoon because after that moment, they knew they could respect and trust him as their leader.
You know the rest of the story. Mr. Truman later became President of the United States. And while in office, he made a decisive decision that resulted in the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
It reveals the hidden potential inside a person. Crucibles are like tea in hot water — they bring out the true colors inside. They simply reveal the character within. What a person does in the crucible will make or break their future as a leader. The crucible will either show their hidden potential or their hidden problems. Either way, the crucible never leaves us the same.
It brings great difficulties and stress. Crucibles are often accompanied by suffering, at least temporarily. For some leaders the crucible experience has been imprisonment, war, extended sickness. For others, it was being overlooked for promotion, losing a client or being laid off. My observation has been that maturity and experience with crucibles will not lessen the difficulty, but they will lessen the stress. When we have experience, we understand what is happening, and we can take confidence from having preserved in the past.
It purifies motives and shapes ambitions. Crucibles are cleansing and purifying because they help a leader sort through priorities. Ambitions are bought to light as the crucible helps leaders get past the trivial and mundane.
Years ago, businessman J.P. Morgan said it best: “A man always has two reasons for doing anything – a good reason and the real reason. The crucible has a way of revealing the real reason.”
It teaches lessons that help leaders transcend themselves. Crucibles push us to go places we normally would not venture. I remember a conversation I had years ago with a friend who was a heart surgeon. In his concern for my fitness, he scolded me for not leading a healthy life. I recall arguing with him and telling him my health was fine while ignoring the warnings of being overweight. He was right, of course, when I quite abruptly had to have several stint implants in my heart. Talk about a crucible experience! It had a wonderful way of awakening me to examine my lifestyle.
It either becomes an obstacle or an opportunity to fulfill one’s purpose. Crucibles have a way of making or breaking us. They help us or hurt us. They are an asset or a liability. Crucibles almost always leave a memory we look back on as a defining moment. They propel us on a trajectory either good or bad toward our intended destination. Many of us realize our “life purpose” through the crucible experience.
Winston Churchill, the former great British leader, once said, “There comes a special moment in everyone’s life, a moment for which that person was born. That special opportunity when he seizes it, will fulfill his mission – a mission for which he is uniquely qualified. In that moment he finds greatness.”
Winston Churchill was exactly right – and that moment almost always comes through the crucible.
I ask you in closing: Do you recall that crucible experience in your life? Can you look back on that defining moment and realize that it was truly a turning point? Have you found you mission for which you are uniquely qualified?
If not, I would encourage you to seize the day – while there is yet time.
Until next time…
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is currently a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.