4 Ways to Gain Leadership Experience - Alastair Macartney

4 Ways to Gain Leadership Experience

Experience is absolutely critical to leaders and team players at all levels.  Standing on a mountainside, exploring the enormity of it, and convincing a group to jump off it, is no easy task.  They have to completely and utterly trust you- experience is key to this.  The same equation is true to life in government, sport and business- there is no substitute for experience.  Every leader and team player must have the necessary experience to make the judgements required of them.

Alastair Macartney stood on the back of the north face of the Eiger preparing to bASE jump from it in his wingsuit.  Photo by Chris

I recently met the British High Commissioner to Tanzania, Dianna Melrose.  Her last post was as the British Ambassador to Cuba, she has worked at Director level for Oxfam, undertaken key positions in the FCO and within the Department for International Development (DfID).  It is no mistake that someone with a multitude of complex experience has been selected as the High Commissioner in what may be a strategic country within Sub Saharan Africa.

Our conversation centred on the changing times she undertook in Cuba and how, despite these experiences being of a differing nature, there were lessons to learn for her post in Tanzania.  In the same way, experiences on a mountainside can offer insight into business.

But leaders can’t expect to be the Subject Matter Experts (SME) in all areas.  They need to have enough experience in the subject area to understand, and a variety of experience around the area to put it into context.  They then need to have the experience, understanding and humility to ask for help and draw on SMEs to guide them through any remaining technical detail.

Experience doesn’t always have to be directly related to the task in hand and we all draw our experiences from different areas.  But you have to get out there and have experiences in order to gain the experience.  Here are 4 ways in which you can gain experience that will add value to you as a leader:

  • Learn your business.  Take some time out, away from your desk.  Don’t learn the theory, learn what really happens.  Walk around the office.  Talk to people in other business areas, head down to the factory floor.  Have a go at someone else’s job.  Really understand what they’re going through- understand their challenges.  It’s only by doing this that you can really understand what’s going on around you and give you the experience to consider the wider impacts of smaller decisions in your area.
  • Learn another business.  Take a day out, call a friend and shadow them at work.  How do they do business?  Benchmark against them.  What do you do better- share it with them.  What do they do better- note it down.  Learn from others and add both successes and failures to your list of experiences.
  • Take your team out.  Go and do something different.  I previously blogged about stepping out of your comfort zone.  So give this a go but do it as a group and learn from each others experiences while you’re at it.  How do people react?  How do you deal with being outside of your comfort zone?  Are you inspired?
  • Volunteer at work.  Go for it.  Put your hand up.  Volunteer for that extra task.  Your boss will love you for it and you’ll get more experience by undertaking it.  The more you do, the more you take on, the more experience you’ll get.  It might not be everyone’s favourite way of gaining experience and certainly isn’t for everyone, so select those tasks carefully.  Give yourself enough time to think while you’re at it, cherish the experience and to learn from it.

Recognise what experience you have now and what experience you need then go out there, compound what you currently have and build the rest.  It might take time and energy but it’s certainly a good investment in your future.

Question: How do you make sure you have the necessary experience for your role? 

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  1. I think your right in getting out of your comfort zone my mums doing that at the moment

    • Fantastic. Thanks George. I hope you’re getting some good experience from it.


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