Although the findings of McCall et al. are seen to be a significant contribution to learning through experience, there are a number of issues to be explored with respect to the specificity of leadership learning.
Rather than a discrete focus on leadership, McCall et al. focused on management, as illustrated by their opening research question: ‘When you think about your career as a manager … ’(1988: 5). This suggested a broad direction of thinking that allowed respondents to interpret the role of manager from an undefined perspective.
Within the text, Lessons of Experience (McCall et al., 1988), the terms management and leadership are intertwined and used liberally, leading to ambiguity of interpretation as to whether the lessons relate to management or leadership, but presumably both. From an examination of the contents of the lessons, there is a greater association of management with assignments – being particularly task-focused; while the lessons of hardships and notable people could be seen to be more prototypically associated with learning about leadership.
The authors do not seek to make a distinction between management and leadership and there are no critiques of the research available in this respect. An issue of significance, commented on by McCall et al. (1988) (and similarly echoed in Davies & Easterby-Smith, 1984, as well as Broderick, 1983 and Zemke, 1985), was a link between the success of interventions and the context of the individual.