Leadership advice is easy to find these days: workshops, conferences and private coaching sessions, often for a hefty price, on how to make the leap from executive to leader.
Yet those who have proved their ability to inspire rarely say they were guided by formal instruction. Instead, they point to life experiences that were pivotal in helping them recognize a capacity to make things happen and to get others behind them.
Many of these people show some qualities of young children: curiosity, boundless energy to put into practice what they learn, and a willingness to pick themselves up and keep going when they fall.
Warren Bennis , founding chairman of the Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, and Robert Thomas, senior research fellow of Accenture’s Institute for Strategic Change in Cambridge, Mass., believe all leaders have undergone at least one crucible experience that unleashed their abilities and taught them who they were.
The two professors studied 43 leaders — half of them 70 or older and half 35 and younger — for their book “Geeks and Geezers” (Harvard Business School Press) due out next month. Their transformational experiences varied from being mentored, to climbing a mountain, to losing an election, but ultimately proved more important than the person’s education, intelligence or birth order.
“Sometimes it is an event, sometimes it is a relationship … sometimes joyous, sometimes tragic … but it’s always a powerful process of learning and adaption,” they write. “It is both an opportunity and a test.”