Recently, a friend shared that he had learned that you can not teach people experience. The minute I heard this line it was a “blinding flash of the obvious,” quoting an old Tom Peters’ phrase.
So many times when coaching executives, I have have listened to someone complain that a particular person just does not “get it.” When I step back from the actual problem we are discussing and think about the person in question, I realize that they can not “get it” because they have never experienced “it” before. As Margaret Wheatley wrote so many years ago, when confronted with an unknown, we default to a known. Our challenges as leaders is to realize that the defaults that most people have are completely based on their experiences, positive and negative. Furthermore, most people are doing the best they can given the experiences they’ve had.
So, what can we as leaders do?
Recognizing the truth that we can not teach experience, we, as leaders, can tell stories and lessons learned from our own experiences. By offering perspective, we open up the possibility for all involved to gain some new perspectives or some fresh insights into the challenges before them.
Next, we can create a safe and supportive learning environment around an individual as they go through a first time experience. By surrounding them with the right tools, support and information, they can step forward with confidence, knowing that we will be there on the other side to unpack the experience and help them find meaning and greater understanding from the experience.
Finally, we can be the kind of leaders who role model smart thinking and smart choices as we go through our own first time experiences. While we can not teach experience, we can be the kind of person who embraces them and learns from them every step of the way.
As you move through the rest of this year and into 2019, I encourage you to share your stories and lessons learned, to create safe and supportive learning and working environments, and to role model the value of continued learning from new experiences.