How do you get experience in leading? That’s simple–Lead. But if you want experience that grows you as a leader, you have to LEARN from your experiences. Does it have to be just leadership experience? Actually, no it doesn’t. You can gather experiences from books, and TV shows, and movies, stories from other people, things you change your perspective on. Now, you can reflect and gather wisdom from things you’ve already considered and learn something new from it. I’m in a bible study that does in depth research and requires considerable time to ponder and ask the questions to make sense of the stuff we discuss. This next session will be covering John. We will not only cover the gospel of John, but the letters he wrote, and the old testament references he used and consider his perspective. This is the 3rd time for me, and yet, I know that this time, I will see something that I swore was not in this book the last time I read it.Whoa!!!! Did they add that passage? Well, no, they didn’t. I didn’t need to know that the 1st two times I read this, but I am ready to see it now.
Every day, you see something that is insightful, or different, or thought provoking or puzzling, and yet if we do not learn from this experience we will absolutely need to have it available in some leadership capacity down the road. It’s like the time we went hiking in the woods. We were carrying big back packs and our destination was not close. One of the girls found a pocket knife on the trail. 12 girls had walked right past it and hadn’t picked it up. (Why didn’t you pick it up? “What? With that heavy back pack? I would have fallen over!” or “Where would I have put it?” or, “It was dirty, ew!!!”) She picked it up, and sure enough, as we were walking through a narrow spot on the trail, one of the other girls’ backpack became entangled in some raspberry bushes. It caught on the material and when she tried to yank it, it started to tear her back pack. Hers was one of those fashion back packs with light material and an insufficient frame. It was only rated for 20-30 pounds and she had at least that much weight in make up and hair care products. She was not happy and was ready to turn around and go home. (That would have been a really long hike back because we’d been hiking for 4 hours and were nearly at the campsite.) But the girl that picked up the pocket knife easily sliced through the raspberry bushes and freed her without doing major damage to the backpack. Now these were girl scouts so at least 1/2 of them had a boy scout pocket knife, but they were packed away and not readily available. The next day, those who had a knife, moved it from inside the pack to an outside pocket or put it in the pocket of their pants. No one knew they would need the pocket knife that soon for that purpose, but because the 1 girl saw one and picked it up, the problem was solved. And the rest of the girls learned from the experience. You don’t know when you’re going to need something so you take note of everything you do everyday, reflect on it, savor it, and store it somewhere you can get to it easily.
You can collect statistics so that when you have to defend your decision you can state the numbers you’re basing your decision on. You can collect stories of heroism so that when someone you know is starting to spiral into depression, you have a story about someone who was able to come back from the situation. You collect historical facts, you collect vocabulary words, you study people and how they act and react and collect the observations, you collect quotes, you collect books, you collect people with different skills and interests that you can use as resources. You reflect on each of the things you collect and ponder how each could be used in the leadership role. When I am teaching, and I am trying to explain a complex concept, I can say, “This reminds me of a story…” The student knows there will be a point to the story and will most likely remember it several weeks later. This might be for self defense so that they can say, “OH YEAH! I remember that one,” so as not to be subjected to the same story over and over again. My kids got to the point when I was trying to influence their behavior, and started a story, they’d say, “Oh, of course, story #14, the pocket knife story,” or “Oh no, #8, the spiderweb story?” or “Cool! #22: The Rockies Camp out story! I love that one!”
Those people that choose to challenge me on my facts had better be better armed than I am because I can call statistics and studies up in the blink of an eye. Those that wish a new perspective will listen as I describe something I discovered in my studies that might change their minds. My vocabulary grows weekly. All of this adds to my experience and makes it easier to deal with foreseen and unforeseen problems that might arise. Experience helps me to recognize a change in morale before it becomes critical. Experience allows me latitude in my approach to teaching, training, and coaching based on the traits my audience reveals. I become more effective with less effort.
The point is this: If you think you have experience and yet you repeat your actions without the benefit of learning from the experience, you will not grow. What that means is that if you back into the neighbor’s mailbox because you can’t see around your bushes, and then don’t do anything about the bushes, you’ve gotten no use from your experience. If the cops know that you always speed coming around that corner, and you get a ticket once a week, you don’t have 5 months of experience driving that route, you have 1 week that you keep repeating ad infinitum. Learn something every day and keep it accessible for the future.