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How do people learn to be leaders?
That’s the question leadership consultant and thought leader Robert J. Thomas answered at a leadership academy event I recently helped organize. Speaking from his book Crucibles of Leadership, Thomas demonstrated that simply taking a course on leadership would do little to transform leadership abilities. In fact, knowledge plays only a small role in a leader’s effectiveness, despite the high price often invested in higher education.
Here is a sample of the elements that transform ordinary people into great leaders.
Adversity is no respecter of persons. Our experiences are usually different, but each of us gets our turn. Our organizations do too, for that matter.
So what happens when adversity strikes? How can we climb our way our of it? This isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some thinking patterns that have helped me maintain a sense of sanity and clarity over the years.
On April 21, 2003, Carolyn Jessop finally followed through on a plot more daring than any you or I have likely faced. Under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night she herded her 8 children past several “sister wives” and into a van where they narrowly escaped the quasi-totalitarianism of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a polygamist group renounced by the Mormon Church) and her life as one of several abused wives to one of the group’s highest leaders.
Five short years later, she was called on by authorities as an expert in the initial custody process following the raid of the YFZ Ranch in Texas, which was being run by her ex-husband. The raid proved pivotal in landing the extremist sect’s leader Warren Jeffs in prison with a life sentence on multiple child sexual assault convictions.
I read Jessop’s New York Times bestseller Escape after it had just been released in 2007 as I was training for an overseas deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army. I’m not sure what prompted me to read her story – or how I even heard about it – but I immediately thought she deserved to win some kind of Outstanding Person of the Year award and wished I could tell her as much. Jessop doesn’t lead a nation, a sports club or a Fortune 500 company, but she embodies some of the most important leadership attributes you or I could ever hope to learn.
A couple summers ago I had the incredible opportunity to attend a one week Dynamics of International Terrorism course with the Air Force Special Operations. I’m still not sure how I had the good fortune to attend. We heard from military, law enforcement, and security officers who were on the ground during many of the high profile terrorist attacks from the last few decades, such as the Khobar Tower bombings, the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, the Mumbai hotel attacks, and the kidnapping of General Dozier by the Italian Red Brigade (presented by General Dozier himself).
As enthralled as I was with the presentations, one poignant leadership lesson stood out which I knew I’d have to eventually share. It came from a story Richard Melhart relayed to us.