I was surprised by a question from one of my adult children. Not that there was anything wrong with the question, but I thought he would have known the answer. That triggered a second question about my parenting – why had I not taught this important information?
As I’ve reflected further, however, I’ve realized how much of our learning comes through experience, not through books or lectures. I learned some important business concepts in school, but I learned consulting by working alongside other highly capable practitioners. I’ve spent hours reading the Bible, but the verses that are embedded deep in my soul are the ones that I’ve worked out through life’s ups and downs. And I’ve read many books on leadership, but the principles that I had to apply in real situations have stuck with me.
The importance of experience as a teacher has three vital applications for anyone in leadership
- For yourself: Don’t get into the rut of doing things the way you’ve always done them. Stretch yourself. Try new ideas. Whether you succeed or fail, you’ll have an opportunity to learn and grow.
- For the aspiring leaders that you lead: Give them plenty of opportunities to lead. That means they will have lots of chances to fail, but it’s the only way that they can develop their leadership potential. Come alongside to coach them and help them learn from their experiences.
- For the people in your church (if you’re a pastoral leader): Shift your programming toward experiential learning. Take an inventory of all your offerings. If you find that they focus on the head (studies, lectures, books), then shift toward life-on-life interactions and ways of living faith in the real world.
You can never teach someone – an adult child, a church member, or a future leader – everything they need to know. But you can model and instill a habit of life-long, experiential learning and growth.
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