“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”
Full disclosure: I am a retired Marine Corps officer. My thoughts and perspectives are shaped largely by my education and cultural experience in the world’s finest fighting force (no bias – I promise). With that caveat, I offer the following thoughts for leaders as they examine their own experiences and how those experiences impact their own leadership style. But this is not a technical article – it is a dialogue on leadership. So let’s talk. While we are at it, let’s discuss how other people’s experiences influence our decision making when choosing leaders to work with.
In the Marine Corps we value a “more rounded” Marine. While in modern times we have moved in some areas towards specialized marines – we still base the officer’s first 6-10 years of experiences on a template that gives the officer a broad experience base and varying context’s in which they can apply and learn leadership principles. I loved that in the Corps, but as I grew more experienced (ok, older) I also saw the value in more focused experiences in certain areas(AKA – Specialists). While valuing specialists, I still believe strongly that leaders at supervisory levels must have a broad range of experiences. Simply put, the greatest leaders are both specialized and diverse. A truly effective leader can make a difference in any arena because they are just that – a leader. It doesn’t matter where you put them. Wherever they are they lead. Their broad experience base shapes their leadership style and gives them out of the box ideas for solving problems and advancing unit performance.
When I left the service I set out to expand myself into areas that weren’t just related to my previous 24 years of experience. I knew that my leadership experiences and skill-set had applicability in almost any area. I also knew that I could make a difference in many market segments because leadership, and its application, is contextually agnostic. By that I mean that leadership principles apply across any industry, market space, or context (Chances are you agree, otherwise you would probably not be reading this article!) What I have found, however, is that many industries, companies and organizations don’t really think that my supposition is true. What they look for is leaders that are from their industry. They want folks who know their business simply because it’s “their” business, and not because they are the best leadership candidates. I believe that this line of thinking hurts a unit’s performance – be it military, business, club, or sport. How so? This type of thinking hurts performance by creating a culture of “organizational inbreeding”, limiting the potential for cross pollination and maximized creativity in both solutions and production. Frankly, with this type of thinking we end up with organizations fraught with bad teeth and close-set eyes, so to speak.
Now, I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater; I am not saying that every leader chosen should be from outside the industry. I am saying that leader candidates should be looked at regardless of their leadership context. Those outside leaders may just have the “secret sauce” you’ve been looking for! Some companies will leave leadership roles vacant while they seek out a candidate that meets “the model” over-looking leaders from other experience bases – companies lose when they do this. Leaders are leaders and the world needs them!
This brings up the subject of credibility of the leader – which we will cover in our next article. But I leave you with this final thought. Let it resonate within you and adapt it as your personally philosophy.
Great leaders know that they don’t know it all.
Great leaders surround themselves with experts and performers that makeup a great leadership team and achieve the results the business or unit desires. A company that needs a great leader in a role should look for just that, a great leader – not merely a skilled technician or someone that fits the mold. Surround that leader with the right technical expertise and THAT group will achieve extraordinary results. How? Because great leaders know how to help the experts around them achieve levels of optimum performance and unleash their hidden potential.
Do you agree that leadership is context agnostic and that great leaders can make an impact in nearly any context? Sound off! We would love to hear from you.