With seemingly endless lists of competencies and too many books, blogs and experts to count, how can you tailor your leadership development?

One approach is to use experience as a starting point.

CCL’s Lessons of Experience research (involving 40 years and several countries in various regions around the world) has found that there are 15 types of experiences that teach valuable leadership lessons:

  1. Bosses and superiors. You experienced a leader as a positive or as a negative role model, coach, teacher or catalyst who accelerated your development.
  2. Career setback. You experienced an unforeseen and unwanted block to your career progression, caused by another person or event, such as being fired, passed over for promotion or being placed in a job that was a poor fit.
  3. Coursework and training. You attended a development-and-training class that advanced your learning, growth or career progress.
  4. Crisis. You experienced an unexpected, shocking event that you could not fully control and that caused feelings of confusion or loss. Examples include a product recall, a personal scandal, a natural disaster or a health epidemic.
  5. Cultural crossing. You had regular, direct contact with coworkers whose values, motivations, language, life routines and social customs are different from yours.
  6. Difficult people. You worked with a boss, subordinates or peers who provoked tension, resentment and disputes due to differing working styles, preferences, and opinions.
  7. Ethical dilemma. You observed fraudulent, illegal or immoral behavior by a senior leader that was endured by a lower-level manager or directed toward you.
  8. Feedback and coaching. You have had job-related, formal or informal conversations concerning specific situations or personal abilities or traits, or you received advice about leading or managing.
  9. Horizontal move. You transitioned or were rotated into another function, business unit, organization or industry sector where the work and work culture were different from what you were used to. The move did not involve a promotion.
  10. Increase in job scope. You experienced a significant increase in budget, in the number of people you managed, in access to resources and in complexity of tasks. These changes typically involved a promotion and an expansion of management responsibilities and visibility.
  11. Mistake. You experienced an error of judgment by a manager or by coworkers that resulted in a team’s or the organization’s failure to meet its goals. Such mistakes can be technical, professional, ethical or strategic — for example, a product malfunction, a poor hiring decision, a loss of credibility or a collapsed venture.
  12. New initiative. You built something by leveraging an opportunity to develop or launch a new product or service, to adopt new technologies, to craft a new policy or process, to set up a plant or unit, to enter a new market, to embark on a new line of business or to create a new business.
  13. Personal experience. You have emotion-laden memories of times in your life when you formed values, sorted out your approach to challenge, or set out on a different direction. Examples include incidents in early life, youth leadership roles, family situations, early job experiences, spiritual encounters, personal traumas and mid-life transitions.
  14. Stakeholder engagement. You experienced high-level interactions, typically with people outside of your organization, that called for reconciling competing points of view and working out solutions when you had little or no formal authority.
  15. Turnaround/fix-it. You fixed or stabilized a failing or underperforming business unit or organization. During the process, you achieved an increase in productivity and profitability by restructuring; downsizing; closing the unit, function, or operation; or implementing an organizational culture change.

Using this list, you can think about what you’ve already experienced and clarify what you learned along the way. Then, you can identify possible new experiences that you need in order to rise to the next level or round out your perspective.

CCL’s Experience Explorer is a tool based on this research and years of CCL’s work with leaders at all levels. If you want a guided approach to focusing learning goals for you — and your team or direct reports — take a look at the “deck of cards” format we’ve created with Experience Explorer.

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