Most Lessons are Caught, not Taught: Experiential Learning & Leadership

Any education expert will tell you that retention of information is much greater with experiential learning than from lecture, reading or any other form of teaching. Yet it seems that often in the business world when we think about how to develop potential leaders, we focus on only the knowledge that they must attain through some sort of formal course.

I had the amazing opportunity early in my career to sit in meetings as my father navigated the many challenges that our business faced. Often, we would later discuss why he did or said certain things, but many times that wasn’t necessary – I learned the lesson by being a part of it

How to Develop Leadership Skills: Make Yourself Dispensable

 In my book, Fostering Culture: A Leader’s Guide to Purposefully Shaping Culture, I point out that, “One of the jobs of any leader is to make themselves dispensable. Leaders do this by coaching and developing people to do what they do.”

If you are developing others to be able to lead as effectively (or better yet more effectively) than you, you must be purposeful about putting them into situations that will give them the lessons of experience they will need.

What is Experiential Learning?

Sometimes experiential learning involves assigning an evolving leader to a stretch project or giving them responsibility for a new area. However, sometimes it may mean just allowing them to sit in a discussion to which they add no value.

I remember many times where my dad told me he was inviting me to a meeting just so I could hear what was discussed. It took patience and built humility to sit there silently for so many hours. But the education was unparalleled.

It takes foresight and a long-term view of success to invest in someone else’s experiential learning. By definition, you are involving them in meetings or projects when they can’t or won’t contribute anything. It is a terrible short-term use of a valuable asset.

But if your business is going to be successful in the future, you need leaders who are gaining experience today.

How to Develop Leaders: Draw on Your Own Experience

It can be as simple as reflecting on your own path and opportunities you were given to develop as a leader. What are the key experiences that shaped you as a leader? What are the parts of how you do your job that you learned the hard way? What is the knowledge you gained by jumping into something for which you weren’t prepared?

Now, how do you give your developing leaders those same experiences?

Continue reflecting on the experiences that shaped your path as a leader by reading Shane’s article, “Who Was Your Best Boss?

Leave a comment