Chapter 2. Learning from Experience

Jeffrey Yip

Meena S. Wilson

When effective managers in organizations are asked to think back over their careers and identify the events that have had the greatest impact on how they lead and manage today, they are most likely to point to challenging job assignments, developmental relationships, and adverse situations they endured. Through their eyes, learning to be a more effective leader is the result of a wide range of experiences that stretched and challenged them. Such experiences are a normal feature of managerial careers. However, we believe that organizations can be more proactive and intentional in using experiences to accelerate leader development. To do so, organizations need a deep understanding of how leader development happens, both inside and outside the classroom; they need to know what kinds of experiences are developmental and how such experiences can be sequenced and combined to maximize learning.

In this chapter we describe how leadership is learned from experience and the implication for leader development. After an overview of three decades of research on the developmental experiences of managers, we describe the variety of experiences that prepare managers to lead and how different experiences translate into learning and development. We next introduce the concept of return on experience, which emphasizes that through experience, leaders can develop in mastery and versatility and that the transfer of learning from experience ...

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