“In the crucible, to paraphrase former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, iron enters the soul and turns to steel.” (Bennis & Thomas, Leading for a Lifetime: 108)
Crucibles are those events in our lives that stretch our capacity, our confidence, our character, and perhaps even our faith. A job loss, a divorce, a death, a serious failure, a chronic illness, persistent conflict….
It looks different for each of us, but one thing remains constant: We all face such times. We all face tests that make or break us. At some point we all feel “iron entering the soul.”
The issue is not whether we can survive such moments. We usually do. But how do such experiences (or seasons) shape us as leaders?
The crucible may take the form of a new baby arriving in the family, or unexpected job responsibilities, or an epiphany about social justice. Whatever it looks like, how do we navigate such seasons?
Growing leaders don’t merely survive the crucibles, they frequently emerge from them with courage and clarity. Crucibles don’t destroy us; they transform us. The iron becomes steel. We discover that, by God’s grace, hardship becomes opportunity.
Twenty centuries ago, the Apostle Paul put it this way: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen….” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
Affliction (the crucible) becomes our uninvited and unexpected friend. It exposes our weaknesses and burns off the cliches and simplisms.
We all encounter trials. While some people buckle beneath them, leaders gently and intentionally transform such trials into opportunities.
Maggie Thatcher got it right. Iron becomes steel, but not without great heat. Let’s not flee from the challenge, but experience in it the transforming grace of God.
Dean, William Jessup University
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