Leaders are made, not born. And they’re made over many years, shaped by professional and personal experiences.
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 experience 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?”
A new book, Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership, provides aspiring leaders and seasoned executives a guide to experience-based leadership development. The book is based on decades of research and draws from studies of leaders around the world, as well as our own proven, best practices in leadership development.
3 Fundamental Truths
Understanding how experience shapes leaders is the first step to making the most of it in your career. Start with these 3 fundamental truths about leadership experience:
- 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.
- Experience is variable, and not all experiences are the same. Different people, of course, have different experiences. And different experiences teach different things. The quality, quantity, and diversity of your experiences are important. Also remember that experience goes beyond what’s on your résumé. Family experiences, volunteer roles, and other non-work experiences can strengthen your leadership skills.
- Experience is the past, present, and future at once. An 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.
So how do you translate these 3 truths into actionable day-to-day activities? Focus on the “Fundamental 4.” The “Fundamental 4” leadership meta-skills are developed primarily through experience and, in turn, help you gain the most from your experiences.
- Self-awareness, which includes what Lead 4 Success calls leadership wisdom, leadership reputation, leadership identity, and leadership brand.
- Learning agility, which includes seeking, sensemaking, 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.
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.
To discover more about how to become a better leader, read Lead 4 Success: Learn the Essentials of True Leadership.