Experiences alone do not add to or take away from the development process of a leader. What that leader does with the experiences determines how he benefits and develops from those experiences. Experiential learning theorists believe the most effective way to grow from experience is to use the Action-Observation-Reflection (A-O-R) Model. Growth from the A-O-R Model only occurs when one observes their actions and reflects on the consequences of those actions (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.47).
Another way leaders are developed from experience is through feedback. Obtaining constructive feedback is not necessarily an easy task. According to Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy, you have to convince others that they can approach you without fear of retaliation, and that you genuinely want their input (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.95). When choosing an appropriate method for getting feedback, you might consider the size of the group, the level of trust within the group, and the relationship between the manager and subordinates.
Leaders can also look for opportunities outside their comfort zones, what Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy call the 10-percent stretch. This is where leaders purposely volunteer for assignments they typically would not pursue. Three major benefits result from stretching: Fear of attempting new things decreases; you acquire new skills; and subordinates are inspired to see a leader willing to learn on-the-job. It shows humility and places value on effort and risk-taking (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.95).
When leaders recognize they can learn something from everyone, whether it be by asking questions or by simply observing how others handle particular situations, they open themselves to a reservoir of opportunities from which to learn. For instance, a person who has been doing a simple task for several years has probably learned some valuable shortcuts or mistakes to avoid.
Journaling from experiences can have tremendous value to leadership development. Reading journal entries can help view an experience objectively. Instead of looking at the experience as a participant, you are able to view things from the outside in, giving a totally different perspective. Journaling also enables you to go back and see how your thinking evolved to where it is today. If your thoughts took an illogical turn, you can see that turn in your journals. It also acts as a repository for your ideas and successes that may be valuable in your future (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.96).
Leadership development can actually begin in the role of follower. Leadership is influence, and followers can build influence among their peers by participating on committees and working with others on projects. These are equally excellent opportunities for building technical skills, such as budgeting and planning. Having positive influence among your peers and increasing technical competence, positions you in a favorable light with superiors, which can lead to promotion, especially since that positive influence can be galvanized by superiors for the benefit of the entire organization.
Developing leadership and technical skills must be an ongoing process, where the practitioner has knowledge of which development needs are most important to the achievement of their goals, and a plan for achieving those needs. This ongoing process is facilitated through development planning, which begins with a GAPS analysis, which identifies and prioritizes development needs. The second part of development planning is a six-step plan describing how you will arrive to your final destination (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.110,111).
Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., Curphy, G.J. (2012). Leadership enhancing the lessons of experience seventh edition. McGraw-Hill/Irwin. New York, NY.