• Published May 18, 2022
  • 3 Minute Read
LEADING EFFECTIVELY ARTICLE

How to Use Experience to Fuel Leadership Development

Leadership experience offers several key benefits. Reaping rewards and development opportunities from on-the-job experiences starts with intentionally extracting lessons learned from them.
Published May 18, 2022
How to Use Experience to Fuel Leadership Development

The Benefits of Leadership Experience & How It Drives Development

As we’ve stated many times before, leaders are made, not born. And they’re made over many years, shaped by professional and personal experiences.

Most learning and development actually comes from on-the-job experience, not formal coursework.

But the process of leadership development isn’t passive. It’s more than just a matter of letting life experience wash over you. The best leaders learn from their leadership experiences in a thoughtful, strategic manner. They’re constantly asking themselves, “What can I learn from this failure?” or “How can I use this success to grow and develop?”

As noted in our book, Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership, understanding the benefits of leadership experience and how it shapes leaders is the first step to making the most of it in your career.


Lead 4 Success book cover

Set your development as a leader on the right track by learning and practicing the 4 fundamental skills of true leadership: self-awareness, learning agility, communication, and influence.

3 Truths About Leadership Experience

1. Experience matters, because leaders are made, not born.

The most valuable experiences push you out of your comfort zone, stretch your skills, and challenge your abilities. Though nobody wants to spend their entire career in a constant state of discomfort, the most worthwhile leadership development usually comes with a dose of discomfort. Making worthwhile changes is rarely easy, and requires intentional effort.

2. Leadership experience is variable, and not all experiences are the same.

Different people, of course, have different leadership experiences. And different experiences teach different things. The quality, quantity, and diversity of your experiences are important. Also, remember that the benefits of leadership experience goes beyond what’s on your résumé. Family experiences, volunteer roles, hardships and your personal life and other non-work experiences can also strengthen your leadership skills.

3. Experience is the past, present, and future at once.

A leadership experience is not a one-time phenomenon. You can relive past experiences, reflect on them, and discover new insights. Your past experiences can help you navigate your present experiences, and your current experiences may prompt you to re-examine past experiences for new lessons. Future experiences don’t merely happen to you. You can shape them, consciously seeking out opportunities to grow as a leader.

Unlocking the Benefits of Leadership Experience

It Starts With Skill-Building In These 4 Areas

So how do you translate these 3 truths into actionable day-to-day activities?

Focus on developing the core leadership skills needed in every role and career, which are developed primarily through experience and, in turn, help you gain the most benefits from your leadership experiences. These 4 skills are:

  • Self-awareness, which includes leadership wisdom, leadership reputation, leadership identity, and leadership brand.
  • Learning agility, which includes seeking, sense-making, internalizing, and applying.
  • Communication, which includes active listening, gathering feedback, delivering feedback, and communicating your vision.
  • Influence, which includes the distinct skills of political savvy, self-promotion, building and maintaining trust, and leveraging networks.

Why these 4 skills? First, there’s a lot of research that finds these 4 skills are closely linked to effective leadership — not only for people at the peak of their careers, but for leaders of any age. (That’s also why they’re the focus in our fundamental leadership skills course, Lead 4 Success®.)

Though many people have specific strengths in 1 or 2 of these skills, few of us are highly proficient in all 4. Fortunately, life will almost certainly provide you opportunities to develop these skills further. And your organization may even help you make a focused effort to grow through understanding the benefits of your leadership experiences.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

If you’re ready to help your people unlock the benefits of leadership experience in their everyday lives and grow their core leadership skills, get in touch with us to discuss our fundamental leadership skills program, Lead 4 Success®.

  • Published May 18, 2022
  • 3 Minute Read
  • Download as PDF

Written by

George Hallenbeck
George Hallenbeck, PhD
Global Content Lead

George oversees the creation of research-based content for our program and product solutions. He’s a recognized expert in the area of learning agility and has been engaged in research, product development, and client activities related to the topic for over 15 years. He has authored or co-authored 8 books, including Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching and Learning Agility: Unlock the Lessons of Experience.

George oversees the creation of research-based content for our program and product solutions. He’s a recognized expert in the area of learning agility and has been engaged in research, product development, and client activities related to the topic for over 15 years. He has authored or co-authored 8 books, including Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching and Learning Agility: Unlock the Lessons of Experience.

What to Explore Next

Leading Effectively Article
The Core Leadership Skills You Need in Every Role

Whether you're an individual contributor, a firstline manager, a mid-level leader, or a senior executive, there are core skills needed, regardless of industry. We call them the "Fundamental 4" leadership skills.

Leading Effectively Article
Develop Strong Leaders With On-the-Job Learning

On-the-job experience is the number one way people learn and grow, accounting for more than 50% of learning. Here’s how talent leaders can maximize that learning to develop leaders.

Leading Effectively Article
The Influence of Personal Life & Hardships on Leadership Development

Is your personal life affecting your professional life? The classic 70-20-10 model omitted the impact of hardships and personal life on leadership development, but perhaps that’s worth revisiting.

Leading Effectively Article
4 Unexpected Lessons Learned From Hardships & Adversity

Hardships can be powerful teachers. Through your personal and professional setbacks, these 4 unexpected lessons can help you turn challenge into opportunity.

White Paper
Heat Experiences for Development

Learn how organizations are boldly using heat experiences for talent development. But getting the temperature right and providing leaders with support to endure the heat are both critical – otherwise, you risk losing your high-potential talent to burnout.

Related Solutions

About CCL

At the Center for Creative Leadership, our drive to create a ripple effect of positive change underpins everything we do. For 50+ years, we've pioneered leadership development solutions for everyone from frontline workers to global CEOs. Consistently ranked among the world's top providers of executive education, our research-based programs and solutions inspire individuals in organizations across the world — including 2/3 of the Fortune 1000 — to ignite remarkable transformations.