The crucible is an essential element in the process of becoming a leader.
—Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader
Most of the leaders we interviewed were shaped by severe trials in their lives, which we call crucibles. Psychologist Abraham Maslow found that tragedy and trauma were the most important human learning experiences leading to self-actualization. Crucibles enable people to learn life is uncertain, and they have limited control. This new reality empowers individuals to challenge old assumptions and understand they must demonstrate personal agency to deal with their world.
Crucibles often launch leaders into despair, crisis, and doubt. In the midst of a crucible, pain and suffering may overwhelm leaders. With sufficient resilience, leaders emerge from despair and become open to introspection that can catalyze major breakthroughs in their development.
Novartis chairman and CEO Daniel Vasella followed a path to leadership that was one of the most difficult and unusual of all our interviewees. Vasella's emergence from extreme challenges in his youth to reach the pinnacle of the global pharmaceutical industry vividly illustrates the transformation many leaders undergo on their journeys.
Vasella was born in 1953 to a modest family in Fribourg, Switzerland. His early years were filled with medical problems that stoked his passion to become a physician. Suffering from asthma at age 5, he was sent alone to the mountains of eastern Switzerland ...