Leadership is About More than Experience

Jim Rowell, CEO and Co-Founder of Rising Sun Consultants likes to say that ‘great widget makers don’t necessarily make great leaders of widget makers.’

There’s no doubt that leaders need to possess a certain level of knowledge and experience in order to fulfill their responsibilities. In fact, their competence has probably risen above their counterparts to where they become a logical candidate to assume a leadership position. Yet, many leaders aren’t prepared for the transition into leadership or feel their knowledge or experience alone will be enough to ultimately bring them success.

Below are five signs that a leader may be relying solely on experience to drive leadership success.

1. They are quick to share accolades and past successes.

I think back to the movie A Few Good Men and recall when Tom Cruise asked Demi Moore why she was always giving him her resume. Her response; “I want you to think I’m a good lawyer.” I believe leaders who rely on experience genuinely want to do a good job. But instead of working to develop their leadership skills, they continue to talk about the things that landed them the job as opposed to how they plan to flourish now that they have it. Effective leadership is about understanding the lessons from the past and the challenges of the present in order to enjoy success in the future. Relying on the past will ensure that’s exactly where a leader will stay.

2. They struggle to delegate.

As quickly as a leader harkens back to prior success, they can just as quickly intervene at the first sign of trouble. With experience as their guide, these leaders feel the best chance for success comes from their own hands. They struggle to believe that others may share or even exceed their own level of expertise and lack the interest or desire to find out. Being an effective leader means ensuring your employees amass the knowledge and skills they need to take on more responsibility. It means actively looking for the appropriate opportunities to delegate those responsibilities, and then stepping aside and trusting your employees to get the job done.

3. They are quick to inject their own solutions to problems.

Leaders who lack the ability to trust their employees through delegation typically display a similar lack of trust when it comes to problem-solving. While a brainstorming session may start with good intentions, the “experience” leader may be quick to take control of the session or try to one-up others as a way to reinforce their knowledge. Effective leaders pay close attention to the quality and depth of problem-solving ability within their team. Rather than always jumping in to fix the problem, they cultivate a learning environment to improve problem-solving collectively.

4. They struggle to seek and receive feedback.

While possibly sounding a little counterintuitive, leaders who focus on knowledge and experience typically don’t go out of their way to uncover developmental needs or have their performance affirmed. Why is that, you might ask. Wouldn’t they have shown a penchant for self-improvement prior to becoming a leader? Some leaders avoid practices that hint at weakness or deficiency; especially when others are watching closely. It is said that we refer back to places of safety when adversity strikes. When experience is used as a leadership platform, there can be a tendency to recall past triumphs as opposed to facing a challenge head-on or asking for help. Doing so, in the eyes of certain leaders, could affirm their own fears of inadequacy and how they are viewed by employees or peers. Leaders grow and develop when they work to identify gaps in performance and realize that others may not see them as favorably as they see themselves.

5. They struggle to give credit where credit is due or celebrate the success of others.

Those who constantly lead from the front have a tendency to prevent others from catching up, or better still, allow them to walk side-by-side. They struggle to take attention off themselves or show that recent success was actually the result of a team effort. Conversely, where they strive to seek the approval and accolades that come from their own efforts, they constantly miss opportunities to praise others and to celebrate their wins. Effective leaders know they cannot do it alone. They show appreciation for the work their employees do, purposely draw attention to it within the organization, and celebrate their success with grace and sincerity.

Effective leadership is not absent of trust. When an organization places someone in a leadership position, they trust that the employee brings certain qualifications to the table. However, there is equal importance in the trust earned by the leader from those who follow him or her. Employees trust that they have a voice. They trust that their ideas and suggestions have real merit and garner real consideration. They trust that they have been empowered to do their jobs and to make decisions. And they trust that their leader sees immense value in their contributions.

Experience represents a good starting point for leadership, or foundation if you will. Successful and effective leadership, however, rests in one’s ability to help others gain experience and to prepare them to one day lead as well.

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