Experience Can Be A Restrictive Default Setting

Experience can cut the wrong way

Most global executives are promoted or recruited into new leadership roles because of the education they completed, the experience they gained and the insights they bring to new business opportunities and challenges.

Experience alone can be a game-changer. Having learned the ropes once before, successful executives can leverage the lessons learned and confidence instilled in them from past employment, and parlay these assets into exciting new results for their next employer.

On the whole, experience truly is a gift for those who choose to learn - good and bad - from it, and those who learn how they must adapt in order to recognise how different situations, resources and people fit the current day and potential for tomorrow.

Yet experience can also cut the wrong way when an executive leader uses their experience in a past executive role as a crutch for justifying decisions or, worse yet, as a default setting to stifle new ideas and extinguish the flames of innovation that may seem strange, unachievable or simply unfamiliar.

Experience can be a divider

Consider the case of the globally experienced industrial leader who continually reminds his direct reports that, "I've been doing this for 20 years, so believe me when I tell you this is how it should be done."

Over time, this repeated statement rings like a bell of impending disappointment in the ears of those who hear it and, by now, have simply come to expect it whenever the leader doesn't agree with something new. It has become a divisive force within his organisation, yet he remains totally unaware.

In this particular case, experience has become a handicap. It can blind executives to new opportunities and new innovations. And it can also alienate others and polarise the very people he or she needs to mobilise to achieve the company's ambitious growth objectives.

What this particular executive leader fails to recognise is that each executive around the table brings their own unique sets of experience that inform their views, their values and the decisions they make about what's good for the organisation.

In continually reminding everyone of his experience, he unknowingly discounts and devalues theirs. He uses his experience as a bludgeon to cut conversations he doesn't like short and to remind his charges who's really in charge.

Experience, it has been said, can be a tremendous teacher. Yet, in this case, it can also be a divider.

Use your own experience wisely

As you continue to grow your own executive career, be careful not to use your own experience as a defensive shield or as a tool for quieting different opinions in your organisation.

If you play it just right, others will recognise your experience and what you've learned from it without you having to remind them of it.

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