Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent: A book review by Bob Morris

Using ExperienceUsing Experience to Develop Leadership Talent: How Organizations Leverage On-the-Job Development
Cynthia McCauley and Morgan McCall, Co-Editors
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

How and why knowledge shared with others can have almost incalculable value to everyone involved

This is a substantial volume, co-edited by Cynthia McCauley and Morgan McCall, to which they and more than 30 associates have contributed information, insights, and counsel that will help leaders in almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — to accelerate, nourish, and sustain on-the-job development of leadership and management skills at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.

Some of the most valuable material is provided within mini-case studies of organizations that include (listed in alpha order) Eaton, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, HEINEKEN, IBM, Kelly Services, Microsoft, 3M, Tata Group, and Yum! Brands. Chapters are organized within five Sections. During the course of the narrative, readers will learn how their organizations can

o Develop experience-driven leadership
o Put experience at the center of talent development systems
o Design job experiences for leader development
o Maximize learning from experience

Most people find that the most valuable business lessons they learn are from failure than from success, from what hasn’t worked than from what has. In fact, each “failure” (however defined) offers a precious learning opportunity. Individuals need to take full advantage of what is learned from those experiences. Moreover, of equal (if not greater) importance, organizations need a culture within which there are constant and successful knowledge transfers between and among those who comprise the workforce.

The best teachers tend to be avid students and the best way to learn is to teach other. This is precisely what Peter Senge has in mind when advocating what he characterizes as “the total learning organization” in The Fifth Disciple. Review the aforementioned strategic objectives and note the reference to “experience” in each. The value of lessons learned from experience is compounded in direct proportion to the number of people with whom they are shared, and, in extended proportion to the number of people with whom they share those lessons. This really is a two-part challenge, as suggested by Carla O’Dell and C. Jackson Grayson Jr. in If Only We Knew What We Know: The Transfer of Internal Knowledge and Best Practice.

They focus on what they call “beds of knowledge” which are “hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined.” They suggest all manner of effective strategies to “tap into “this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation — all the while increasing profits and effectiveness.”

Almost all organizations claim that their “most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day.” That is correct. Almost all intellectual “capital” is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in “small change.”

Almost everything anyone needs to know about how to leverage on-the-job development can be found in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent. One of the many substantial benefits of the approach taken in this book is that as workers share experience-driven knowledge, they will become convinced of the value of such interaction — to them as well as to associates — and will become “evangelists” of experience-driven learning.

In the final chapter, “Concluding Thoughts,” Cynthia McCauley and Morgan McCall observe: “Leaders have always learned from their experiences and they will continue to do so even without organizational intervention. However, a the authors in this book demonstrate, line managers and HR professionals can create the conditions for more learning by more leaders and for learning focused in areas that will advance the business strategy and the health of the organization. And they can deflect or dampen the forces that thwart learning from experience.”


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