Key Lessons of Learning Leadership Experience

Key LessonsResearch undertaken in the Honeywell organization (Zemke, 1985) identified similar dominance of on-the-job experiences as the primary source of development, as well as the primacy of two key developmental processes.

It was identified that approximately 80 per cent of reported learning came from contact with key people in the workplace and on the job experiences. These two clear initial findings have framed the field of management learning through experience and particularly influenced the work of McCall at al. (1988) that synthesized research developed over a six-year period (McCall & McCauley, 1986; Lindsey et al., 1987; Morrison et al., 1987). They identified three major themes:

  • Job assignments (60 per cent of lessons) – challenging due to inexperienced circumstances, requiring skills not used before, under significant pressure and usually associated with interpersonal conflict.
  • Notable people (20 per cent of lessons) – provoked learning about values and politics ‘and understanding how to direct and motivate others as a complement to the power of the managerial role’ (1988: 82; similar point emphasized by Bass et al., 1987).
  • Hardships (20 per cent of lessons) – significant reflection and ‘heightened awareness of own shortcomings, a clearer view of themselves … and compassion and tolerance for the foibles of others’ (1988: 119).

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