Qualities of a superlative leader – Experience, 8 reasons why

Three times a year I go to a local university along with a group of other members of my local SCORE* chapter. It is a nationally known school that trains and graduates medical technicians. Most are fresh in from high school and graduate the university with little more than internship job experience.

We go there to conduct mock job interviews to help the graduates polish their interview skills and punch up resume’s. The issue of experience always comes up and for good reason.

This is the second installment in my series of the 16 Qualities of a Superlative Leader. The first, intelligence leads to this one, experience. Albert Einstein, arguably one of the most intelligent people in the modern world, said that “Knowledge comes from experience. Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.”

I do not want to give any impression that I am uncomfortable with higher education. I am not. I have a Master’s degree myself. But superlative leaders are not merely educated. They are also experienced.

A young graduate joined a prestigious company and quickly became an admirer of one of the company’s leaders. After several weeks, he approached the man and asked if he would become a mentor. One of the first questions he asked of the mentor was “How did you get to the position and place of authority and influence that you have?”

“That’s simple,” the man replied. “Good decisions.”

“But how do you learn to make good decisions?”

“Simple,” the mentor answered. “Experience.”

“Well, enough,” the young grad answered. “But, if I may, how do you get the experience?”

“Simple, again,” he replied. “Bad decisions.”

Indeed, the information we acquire in the formal educational process provides a body of facts and insights that get us started. But it is experience that matures our insights and gives life to facts. The strategic and tactical skills of leadership require the application of one’s skill in a real life situation.

The business dictionary defines it as “Familiarity with a skill or field of knowledge acquired over months or years of actual practice and which, presumably, has resulted in superior understanding or mastery.”

Superlative leaders, because they are intelligent and can figure things out, let experience teach them even more. Bad decisions have yielded the knowledge to make good decisions.

Here are 8 reasons why experience is one of my 16 qualities of the superlative leader.

  1. Because it illustrates that you have a history of successful encounters with the exigencies of life. Life always pitches curve balls. Experienced people have learned to read the pitch and respond with the right hit.
  2. Because it demonstrates that you can handle success…and failure. Winning is great and not always that easy to handle. But failure is part of the game, too. You don’t field every pitch every time but over time and with experience you do get better at it.
  3. Because successful encounters with the exigencies of life produce one essential component of successful and impactful leadership – confidence. Confidence breeds, well, confidence. If people are to follow, they must have confidence in the one who leads. Without it, their loyalty is tentative and your platform is shaky. More importantly, you must have confidence in yourself. There’s nothing like the successful encounter with exigencies that builds your confidence in your abilities and role as a leader.
  4. Because experience indicates time and circumstances have honed your skill sets and your information base resulting in what others will recognize as a growing competence. Incompetence and inexperience are inseparable. Experience makes a seasoned veteran where there had been a novice. Superlative leaders know what they are doing and others know that, too. If you want people to trust you and follow you, they have to believe in you. Competence reinforces their trust.
  5. Because it means you have learned how to play well with others. It’s called the socialization process and some people never quite get through it. But most do and experience teaches how to get along and go along. Superlative leaders are adaptable, flexible, and amiable. Experience shows us how and when.
  6. Because experience sharpens your vision and shows you what to look for and what you see when you look. Novices are a bit wide-eyed. Well-meaning, but wide-eyed. Experience in a particular industry sharpens your focus and narrows the field of vision so you know what’s critical, what’s important, and what’s less imperative.
  7. Because you learn not only what to look for but what to overlook. Not everything or ever incidence demands your presence or even your attention. In the beginning you are everywhere and learning everything. Experience teaches what to ignore or place lower down the list of priorities.
  8. Because it demonstrates perseverance. Some objectives are reached quickly, many are not. Time in the saddle buys you the right to be respected and listened to. You earn the loyalty of others by virtue of battles fought and victories won.

Experience is where life makes itself real. All superlative leaders are full of experiences upon which they can draw, of lessons learned the easy way and the hard way. Novices are full of knowledge. Seasoned, experiences leaders are full of wisdom.

*Score is a volunteer branch of the Small Business Administration. Its name means the Service Corps Of Retired Executives. There are about 400 chapters throughout the United States staffed by volunteers from every facet of business. They offer their services at no charge to business people and aspiring ones.

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