Leaders, as well as everyone else on their team, are born with inherent personality traits that dictate how they are likely to respond in various situations. Personality traits, in and of themselves, are ingrained into who we are – but from our personality traits, behaviors are manifested, which is what our team, the people around us, and our customers see during daily interactions. In addition, our behaviors are altered by our experiences – whether they are work-related or personal. Those pivotal experiences are the ones that either help leaders grow and become more authentic, or hold them back and shut down.
Nick Craig, the president of the Authentic Leadership Institute and co-author of the book Finding Your True North calls these moments in leaders’ lives crucible moments.
“We all have these highs and lows in our life,” says Nick Craig. “What we’ve seen is that the highs in our life have to do with a previous time in which we’ve been tested. So when the moment comes and we have to deliver, it’s because
A great example of this occurred with Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways flight 1549 out of New York’s LaGuardia airport making his emergency landing in the Hudson after geese flew into the plane’s engines. As the plane descended, air traffic controllers offered advice that was conflicting, confusing and – ultimately – meaningless.
Staying focused and calm, Sully masterfully landed the plane in the river. Then, as the plane was sinking, he walked back and forth, then back and forth again, making sure there was nobody left on board. It all happened in a matter of two minutes.
In those two minutes, Sully was able to summon his inner strengths, his courage and his confidence to land the plane despite what was going on around him. Sully still remains the modest, confident pilot he once was – but the experience changed him. It changed the way he looked at things…and himself.
Through crucible experiences, behaviors and views that one has of themselves can drastically change. A negative experience could cause one to pick themselves up and brush themselves off to be better than they were before. Others might break down as a result and take three steps back. But hardwiring comes into play during crucible experiences – ultimately leaders need to understand what it was that got them through that experience. Was it their risk taking orientation? Their aggressiveness? Their inner confidence? What kept working when everything stopped working? Hardwired traits can push leaders through difficult experiences – which ultimately do not change. However, the experience itself, could change the leader’s behavior after the fact.
Many times during a stressful or difficult situation, leaders could behave a certain way, and then they apologize and say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t myself.” But the realization is that they really are being more themselves at that time than any other time.
It is up to leadership to translate their personality hardwiring into a suitable behavior for every situation. How will leaders decide to move forward after a pivotal experience? How will their ingrained assertiveness, aggressiveness, and confidence develop after those crucial two minutes? To outsiders, it can seem that a person drastically changes after a crisis – either for the better or for the worse – but the opposite is the case. Hardwired traits remain, but it’s how leaders decide to translate that to the world around them is what changes.
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