Written by Phil on July 18, 2011
How do people develop as leaders without the benefit of experiential learning? I meet so many coaches who claim to develop leadership within their coachees who have never been in leadership positions themselves. Their experience is based on learning from books and not in practice. I believe that three key attributes of a leader which cannot be developed without experience are developing trust, managing risk and exercising judgement.
An effective team has to trust its leader and trust each other if they are going to be cohesive in their disposition. How does a leader earn the teams trust without developing that trust through experience. Team members must identify their leader as trustworthy before they will trust them. It is the same with other team members. Trust has to be earned and it has to be earned through experience it cannot appear on order.
Leadership is about recognising risk and mitigating it as far as is possible. But like most things in life managing risk comes from experiencing life and experiencing risks. What risks are worth taking and what are not? Leadership and the management of risk are about the future they are therefore more of an art than a science as they cannot be prescribed. Risk management is about experience and the gut feel developed through the hard knocks of life.
Risk is exercising judgement and making the right calls comes from learned wisdom which is a combination of classroom and book aided learning and experiential learning and it is this rich combination that informs the great leaders. The combination and the ability to associate current circumstances with knowledge that allows the great leader the wisdom and judgement to effect change within an organisation in the right way at the right time.
Leadership can be learned from a book but it is a brave leader who reaches judgements based solely on non experiential learning. Most great leaders I have met and come across stretch their leadership through the combination of non experiential and experiential learning mixed with the ability to hone their leadership through reflection and pre emption of the issues that will challenge their leadership. You can’t be a leader without feeling it! You can’t be a leader without learning as you experience it!