The Danger of Experience

robotSometimes I wish it was still the 1960’s. It was the days of the television show Lost in Space. In this cinematic gem, there was a robot who looked after a young boy named Will. In only one episode, the robot warned Will of impending danger by saying, “Danger, Will Robinson!” The saying caught on and reached catchphrase status uttered to warn someone when they are about to make a mistake or are overlooking something.

As leaders, we need that robot’s warning. Here’s what I mean.

As we grow in our leadership skills, confidence rises. We reach a point where we have experienced a variety of difficult situations. We celebrate the successes while grieving the losses. We become comfortable in our leadership skin. We begin to think we have this leadership thing mastered. That is the point where experience can be dangerous.  At this place, stagnation can set in. We can analyze situations and think to ourselves too quickly, “I know what to do here. This is like the time I…”(insert leadership problem and canned solution here). Cue the robot.

Every organization wants a leader wise enough to handle situations that come up. That’s where the rub comes.

Reality says there are going to be situations that come up that even the most experienced leader has not seen before. Then what? A classic example is how United States leaders responded after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. No one had ever seen anything quite like this before. There was no frame of reference. But soon we began to see true leaders step to the forefront to get our nation back on track.

know the answer

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Experience and wisdom are not the same things. I have known leaders who have one-year experience, twenty times. They have a hammer and every problem they encounter looks like a nail.

Other leaders I know have little experience but are blessed with “wisdom beyond their years.” That’s the kind of leader we want to lead our organization. We want leaders who can figure it out when they haven’t seen the situation before.

That’s the kind of leader we want to be. Yes, experience matters but it becomes dangerous when we rely on it too much to the exclusion of wisdom. Wisdom wins every time.

I like what Ed Catmull of Pixar says in Creativity, Inc.: “Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.” If we find ourselves not thinking differently about the problems we encounter, if every problem is a nail, then perhaps we’re not engaging enough in the problem but relying too much on our experience to save us.

Great leaders engage wisdom to help them solve problems and let their experience speak for itself.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Be Fooled by Sunshine and Roses

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are not always what they seem… – Phadeus, Roman poet

I attended a gathering of leaders recently in which we were going around the room telling how things were going within our teams.  Each of us, except one, stated some good things that were happening as well as some things with which we were struggling.  When it came to one leader in particular, this leader shared that everything was going great!  Wonderful! Good things were constantly happening!  All said with a smile that betrayed believability.  I knew first-hand that things were not in fact all sunshine and roses.  Things were quite the opposite.

As I reflected later on that meeting, I realized that the combined experience of the leaders in the room was over 80 years.  Yet, here was a leader who chose shut off any wisdom from   other leaders in the room who had wrestled with the very same issues and had grown through them.

Why do we unintentionally spurn the wisdom in the room?  Is it to make ourselves look better because we feel inadequate?  Do we want to appear as leaders who have it all together?

None of us have it together.

None of us want to see other leaders fail.  As leaders, it is in our nature to see others succeed, even those in “competition” with us.  We don’t want other leaders to make the same mistakes we did.

When things on our team are not sunshine and roses, the sharp leader is not afraid to admit it and glean from the wisdom in the room.  Instead, they embrace it.

What wisdom can we gather this week that will help us grow in our leadership?

Book It!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

We’ve heard it said too many times to count that “leaders are readers.” It’s one of the lessons they teach in Leadership 101. Read, read, read. As an introvert, this advice has been easy to take to heart and put into practice. I have friends and family members who don’t like to read and will never pick up a book to mine its wisdom. That’s okay for them. They can grow in their leadership in other ways. For the readers among us, we’ve found some benefits in reading books that we don’t get anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorites.

Reading books helps us stay current.

With the advent of the Internet, books are the slow turtle in the race for fresh information. The turnaround time from the submission of a manuscript to a publisher to when it is available for sale can take up to a year.  Quick information is available 24/7 on the World Wide Web. However, when we want to dig deeper into a subject, we rely on books to help us sort through the weight of research. When we read Jim Collins’ classic, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  or Chip and Dan Heath’s, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work or Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, we have hours of the most relevant and best research on the topic at our fingertips. We have food for thought rather than a snack for skimming.

Reading books helps us observe different leadership styles.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The way John Maxwell leads and writes is not the same way Jack Welch leads and writes. (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious.) Through their words, we get a sense of who they are as leaders and how they approach the various leadership challenges that we all face. There is room for a variety of styles at the leadership trough. The diamonds are there for our choosing.

Reading books is fun.

This one varies in degree according to our personal taste. I find reading pleasurable while some of my extroverted friends find reading a chore. There is a joy in discovering new insights as I pore over the latest Malcolm Gladwell offering (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants). Fresh wisdom is mashed with existing wisdom in our heart and mind to give us a new creative edge.

Reading books gives us perspective into our situation.

One of my favorite authors is psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge; Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses and Relationships That All of us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward; 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life).  When I read some of the composite stories of clients from his counseling practice or business consultations, I sometimes say to myself, “Thank God, I’m not that messed up.” Other times I say, “God, help me to be more like that person.”  Reading gives us perspective into our situation by helping us meet people we would not have encountered in daily life.  We would have missed out on some much needed perspective for our own situation.

Reading books affirms who we are.

This benefit is related to the one above. A couple years ago, Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was a bestseller.  With any individual we read about, there are things we relate to and things we don’t relate to in their story.  I’ll never be Steve Jobs and neither will you. There was only one.  In the same way, there is only one you and only one me.  Reading helps to affirm who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us to celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

Reading books gives us practical ideas.

When we read great books like Todd Henry’s, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice or Peter Bregman’s, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done, we’re taken to the toolbox of the author and shown what has worked for them. Because we share the human condition, their ideas may help us to be more effective in our leadership.  Even if we don’t use the same idea in the way it is presented in the book, it may spark a thought in our mind as to how we can handle a challenge we are facing.

We take the books that we’ve read, mix in our experience, combine it with our personality, add it all together with our skills and talents to be the creative leaders we are meant to be. Those that make a difference in the lives of those we lead.

What books have had the most impact on your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Action Steps:

Check out my reading list and add your suggestions below.

To go the extra mile see: http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-retain-more-of-what-you-read.html