CCL has been studying leaders and their development for 40 years. Many of our practices have become “tried-and-true” ways to develop leaders and leadership. Here, we highlight ideas, strategies and tactics that we have developed and refined over many years and by working with many thousands of clients.

Learning from Experience

“When effective managers in organizations are asked to think back over their careers and identify the events that have had the greatest impact on how they lead and manage today, they are most likely to point to challenging job assignments, developmental relationships and adverse situations they endured,” write Jeffrey Yip and Meena S. Wilson.

In the chapter “Learning from Experience” in The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development, Yip and Wilson describe three decades of CCL research and show how individuals and organizations can apply it to be proactive in developing leaders.

Becoming a more effective leader is the result of a wide range of experiences. Leaders learn from being stretched and challenged, including from:

  • Challenging Assignments. These come from increasing your scope — such as taking on a first supervisory job, a larger role or a general management role. Challenge also comes from creating change: you might serve on a project team or task force, manage a new initiative, work on a fix-it or turnaround assignment, or help to lead organizational growth or downsizing.
  • Developmental Relationships. Experience with constructive bosses and superiors who serve as role models, teachers, catalysts or mentors is important for leader development. Relationships that are difficult are also instructive, such as an ineffective boss, a problematic subordinate or conflict-creating coworkers.
  • Adverse Situations. Hardships or difficulty can stem from organizational or external situations, such as a financial, environmental, national security or a large-scale health crisis. Adverse situations can also be driven by mistakes that have personal and/or organizational impact. Career setbacks, too, such as being fired, demoted or denied promotions and opportunities, can become important learning experiences.
  • Course Work and Training. Technical and professional development — whether initiated by you or by the organization — are necessary and can also be pivotal experiences in your career.
  • Personal Experiences. Important and memorable experiences outside of the job inform and shape your leadership roles. Early life and work, midlife transitions, trauma and experiences that create emotion-laden memories can all influence your principles and behavior.

Each of these experiences provides a unique context for learning and development, and the outcomes of learning are different in each. But, write Yip and Wilson, “For those willing and able to learn from experience, every experience adds to the depth and breadth of their leadership skills.”

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