The Role of Experience in Leadership
The role of Experience in shaping great leaders and why it matters more than innate skills or education.
Leadership is a subject that has been studied for years, with numerous theories emerging that attempt to explain the various factors and elements that make someone an effective leader.
Some theories privilege the idea of leadership as an innate skill that a person is born with, while others focus on the idea that leadership is something that can be learned through education and coaching.
While I think best leaders probably have a mix of the two, I see leadership more as a continuous growth process that requires time.
Think about your most inspiring leaders. I'm referring to inspiring leaders, not only founders or good managers - people who have the ability to inspire, guide, and influence others to achieve a common goal or vision.
How many of them are under 20? How many under 30?
I bet not many, and I can give you some well-known examples of acclaimed tech leaders:
Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX): 51 years old
Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft): 55 years old
Jeff Bezos (former CEO of Amazon): 59 years old
Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook): 38 years old
Sundar Pichai (CEO of Alphabet Inc): 50 years old
While innate skills may offer a good foundation, and further development through education and coaching can improve leadership abilities, it is ultimately the accumulation of experience that sets successful leaders apart, and experience requires time.
Today we’ll try to understand better:
What is Instinctive Leadership and what are its advantages/disadvantages
What is Learned Leadership and what are its advantages/disadvantages
How experience plays a bigger role in shaping great leaders
🧠 Instinctive Leadership
Instinctive leadership refers to the belief that some individuals are naturally predisposed to be leaders due to their inherent personality traits or characteristics. This concept can be traced back to the trait theory of leadership, which states that individuals possess certain qualities that make them more suited for leadership roles.
Trait theory of leadership is based on the idea that there are certain traits, such as intelligence, self-confidence, determination, and charisma, that predispose individuals to be effective leaders.
👌🏼 Advantages of Instinctive Leaders
Quick decision-making: instinctive leaders can make quick and decisive decisions without spending too much time analyzing or considering all available information. This can be an advantage in fast-paced environments where time is of the essence.
Adaptability: instinctive leaders are often able to adapt to changing situations and circumstances quickly, as they rely on their intuition and experience to guide their actions. This can be an advantage in unpredictable environments where plans and strategies need to be adjusted on the fly.
Charisma: instinctive leaders often possess a natural charisma and confidence that can inspire and motivate others. This can be an advantage in situations where a leader needs to rally people around a common goal or vision.
Creativity: instinctive leaders are often able to think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to problems. This can be an advantage in situations where traditional methods or approaches are not working, or when new and unconventional approaches are required.
🚫 Disadvantages of Instinctive Leaders
Lack of analysis: instinctive leaders may be prone to making decisions based on gut feelings or intuition without considering all available information or data. This can lead to poor decision-making and mistakes.
Overconfidence: instinctive leaders may be overly confident in their abilities and judgments, which can lead to a lack of openness to feedback or alternative perspectives. This can result in missed opportunities or poor outcomes.
Impulsiveness: instinctive leaders may act impulsively without fully considering the consequences of their actions. This can lead to rushed decisions or actions that may be harmful or counterproductive.
Inconsistency: instinctive leaders may be inconsistent in their decision-making or actions, as they rely on intuition and emotions rather than a consistent framework or set of principles. This can lead to confusion or lack of clarity among followers, or a lack of trust in the leader's abilities.
🌟 Examples of Instinctive Leaders
Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group, one of the world's largest e-commerce companies. Ma grew up in a poor family in China and struggled in school. Despite not having a traditional tech education, Ma used his experience and knowledge of the Chinese market to build Alibaba into a global e-commerce giant.
Mark Zuckerberg: Zuckerberg is another example of an instinctive leader in the tech industry. He started programming at a young age and built Facebook, one of the world's largest social media platforms, by instinctively identifying the need for an online social network.
📚 Learned Leadership
Learned leadership, on the other hand, emphasizes the idea that leadership can be developed through education, training, and practice. This approach often focuses on teaching individuals specific skills, behaviors, and strategies that can enhance their leadership abilities.
👌🏼 Advantages of Learned Leadership
Analytical Decision-Making: Learned leaders often have a strong ability to analyze data and information, as well as to weigh pros and cons before making decisions. This can lead to more thoughtful, informed decisions that take a wider range of factors into account.
Strategic Thinking: Learned leaders often have a strong ability to think strategically and plan for the long term. This can be an advantage in situations where a leader needs to anticipate future challenges and opportunities, and to develop proactive strategies for addressing them.
Accountability: Learned leaders often have a strong sense of accountability and responsibility, as they understand the impact that their decisions and actions can have on others. This can result in leaders who are more willing to take ownership of their mistakes and shortcomings, and who are more committed to making amends and improving their performance.
Empathy: Learned leaders often have a heightened ability to understand and connect with others, as they have developed skills in communication, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal relationships. This can lead to greater trust and loyalty among followers, as well as a more collaborative and supportive working environment.
🚫 Disadvantages of Learned Leadership
Rigidity: Learned leaders may become overly reliant on established procedures, policies, or methodologies, which can limit their ability to think creatively or respond to new situations. This can result in missed opportunities or a lack of innovation.
Analysis Paralysis: Learned leaders may become bogged down in analysis and data, which can result in decision-making that is slow, indecisive, or overly cautious. This can be a disadvantage in situations where quick action is required.
Lack of Intuition: Learned leaders may rely too heavily on data and analysis, and may overlook or discount their intuition or gut feelings. This can result in decisions that are overly rational or analytical, and that do not take into account the emotional or intuitive aspects of a situation.
Inflexibility: Learned leaders may become set in their ways or resistant to change, as they may have a strong attachment to established practices or ways of doing things. This can make it difficult for them to adapt to new challenges or to recognize when a change in approach is needed.
🌟 Learned Leader Examples
Angela Merkel: who served as the Chancellor of Germany for over 15 years. Despite Merkel's background was in science, she was able to learn and build consensus that helped her navigate the complexities of politics.
Tim Cook: Cook is a learned leader who has developed his leadership skills through years of experience at Apple. He became the CEO of Apple in 2011 and has led the company through significant changes and challenges, including the death of Steve Jobs.
Instinctive leadership and learned leadership are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they represent two different aspects of leadership that can complement and enhance each other.
Most successful leaders embody a combination of both instinctive and learned leadership attributes. They may have some innate qualities that give them an advantage in certain situations, but they also continuously strive to develop their skills and knowledge to become better leaders. This combination of instinctive and learned leadership attributes allows leaders to be more versatile, adaptive, and effective in various contexts.
💼 The Impact of Experience on Leadership
Is possessing innate skills and a strong commitment to learn enough to be an effective leader?
In my opinion, it's not. While these qualities provide a solid foundation, the true differentiator in leadership (as in many other fields) lies in the accumulation of experience.
The significance of experience in leadership cannot be overstated. It enables leaders to better understand various situations, adapt their approaches, and make well-informed decisions. Furthermore, experience allows leaders to learn from their mistakes, build resilience, and develop emotional intelligence - all crucial factors for effective leadership that cannot be innate or acquired from books or coaching alone.
⚖️ Weighing the Importance of Experience
Determining the exact weight of experience in relation to instinct and learning is a difficult task. Individual studies have explored the impact of each of these elements on leadership development, but none have examined the relationship among all three.
Drawing from my own career, I am convinced that experience plays a more significant role, accounting for at least 50% of its importance in leadership.
Although studies suggest that 30% of leadership is genetic, I believe the actual figure is lower. Undoubtedly, traits such as charisma, extraversion, and effective communication can facilitate a leadership journey, but many of these qualities can be developed through dedicated study and coaching.
In simple terms, people like Jack Ma, Mark Zuckerberg, Angela Merkel, and Tim Cook were not famous leaders when they started their careers. They became great examples after gaining a lot of experience.
In conclusion, both instinctive and learned leadership approaches offer valuable insights into the development of effective leaders. Instinctive leadership acknowledges the importance of certain innate traits that can contribute to successful leadership, while learned leadership emphasizes the potential for individuals to develop their leadership abilities through education and practice. However, it is the accumulation of experience that ultimately sets successful leaders apart.
Experience allows leaders to refine their skills, adapt their approaches, and develop a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances of leadership in different contexts. Furthermore, experience fosters resilience, emotional intelligence, and authenticity in leaders, which are essential qualities for long-term success.
By recognizing the value of experience in leadership development, we can create opportunities for leaders to learn from their experiences and continuously grow, ultimately leading to more effective and adaptable leadership in various situations.
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🖼️ AI Picture of the Week
A charismatic leader is addressing a massive crowd of followers in a futuristic office with glass walls, offering a stunning panoramic view.
✌️ That’s all folks
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