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Making Lessons Learned From Experience a Key Factor in Developing Leaders


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

SIOP releases newest volume in Professional Practice Series

By Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

What is more important for ensuring top leadership talent in organizations: a careful selection process or training individuals to become leaders? The debate about which of the two is most effective continues.

However, Allen Kraut, editor of the SIOP’s Professional Practice Series, says there is a third consideration: experience. Experience, or on-the-job development, is the subject of a new book in the 29-volume series. The recently released book, titled “Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent,” is copublished by SIOP and sponsored by the Center for Creative Leadership. (Click to view Table of Contents/Excerpt!)

Visit the SIOP Store today to order your copy of this title. SIOP members receive 20% off the list price!

Research increasingly and conclusively shows that effective leaders continue to learn, grow, and change throughout their careers and that a significant part of this development occurs through on-the-job experiences. To be sure, selection, training, and experience are overlapping factors.

“Job experience provides important development beyond success in doing one’s job and formal classes, and becomes an important aspect of selection in hiring and promotions,” Kraut said.

Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent provides real-world strategies, best practices, lessons learned, and global perspectives on how organizations effectively use experience to develop talent. The book provides an in-depth look at a variety of leader development initiatives that have taken up the challenge of putting experience at the center of the development process.

Editors of the book, SIOP Fellow Cynthia McCauley, a senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, and Fellow Morgan McCall Jr., who teaches management and organization in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, have assembled some of the best minds for this volume. The authors provide their insight and, yes, their own experiences in tackling the challenges of experience-driven leadership development.

Although it is obvious that leaders learn from experience, it remains difficult to actually implement experience-driven development systematically, according to the editors. In many ways, this is a best practices book. Of the 18 chapters, 12 highlight a specific organizations that are, in one way or another, using experience to develop leadership talent.

McCauley and McCall begin by quoting Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan and Renault, who says “Leaders are formed in the fire of experience. It’s up to the head of the company to prepare a new generation (of leaders) and send them to hot spots as part of their training.” That is what the book is about: identifying people with potential, giving them challenging assignments, and holding them accountable for both results and growth.

The editors acknowledge that all “hot spots” and “fires” are not the same, that experience comes in many shapes and sizes and that its lessons are equally diverse. Nevertheless, the types of experiences that matter can be identified and are consistent across corporations and even across cultures.

The chapters represent a variety of viewpoints—from industry, consulting, and academia—but mostly from practitioners reporting a variety of innovative approaches. They show how organizations accomplish three overarching essential tasks:

  • Making job experience a key part of the organization’s talent development process
  • Designing and/or choosing the job assignments that will enhance leadership development
  • Ensuring that the learning from that experience will be maximized

Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent also includes online resources that allow employees to search for development opportunities.

Leadership strategist Moheet Nagrath, in a special foreword, said “The most effective way to identify talent is time-tested and a classic: watch your talent in action, over time, and in wide-ranging experiences.”

Inge G. Thulin, chairman of the Board, president and CEO of 3M, said “developing our people is my top priority to ensure the future success of the company. Our approach to leadership development is centered on experience-based opportunities to give our people the background they need to build their strengths and become effective leaders.”

The authors note that while creating developmental experiences is common in organizations, there is little consistency in the process used to identify potential leaders and to decide who is assigned to those experiences. However, they see a tendency “for increasingly serious involvement of line managers in assessment as more of the development experiences are real assignments with real performance expectations.” That is good because they are the ones best able to see the growth of potential leaders.

Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent is full of successful strategies for creating growth experiences and maximizing the lessons they offer. It is a valuable read, especially for line managers and HR professionals looking to create conditions that will advance the business strategy and health of their organizations.