Wow! What a provocative statement. We are taught to value experience. Anyone applying for a job knows that being able to show you have had experience in a role is a huge advantage. The problem with experience is that not all experience results in learning and change. This, of course, applies to leadership experience.

Have you had twenty years’ leadership experience, or have you had one year’s leadership experience repeated twenty times?

You only learn from leadership experience when you reflect on it.

The difference between time spent doing leadership and valuable leadership experience is found only in what you have learned from your experiences – if anything. You only learn when you think about what has happened. You only learn from leadership experience when you reflect on that experience; decide to change something in your behaviour, belief system, or attitude; and act on that decision. So, we learn nothing from experience. We only learn when we reflect on our experience.

The evidence of learning from our leadership experience is in a change in us.

There are a number of challenges with reflecting on our experience. Reflection requires thinking. Thinking requires the ability to consider a variety of possibilities, not just the one we think is right. Thus, at the heart of thinking about our experiences is the process and skill of thinking about our own thinking. This involves examining our own presuppositions and assumptions. A good example might be found in voting patterns. The vast majority of voters vote for the side of politics their parents voted for. They often have not actually thought through for themselves the differences in policies between the available choices. If they have it is often only a result on conversations with friends or advertising rather than serious thought which influences the direction of their vote.

The imprinting of political persuasion by parents on children can be so strong that any thinking that is done is focussed on gathering reasons why their parents were right rather than any attempt at developing an unbiased evaluation of the options. That is why much public political policy and marketing is aimed at the relatively small percentage of “swinging” voters “.

There are probably multiple ways we have been ‘imprinted’ with perspectives on things. The sum total of our life experiences including: our cultural heritage, socio economic background, experience of family, education, and the views of our peers, all conspire to build ways of thinking about and seeing the world around us so that these perspectives become our ‘normal’. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s normal! But these innate perspectives colour the way we see people and events. We need to learn to think about them, question them, consider other viewpoints, even entertain the thought that we might be wrong, to be able to expose the filters which exist in our minds. Once we have an idea of a filter which might have an effect on our thoughts and opinions we can make a choice whether we are happy with it or not.

If we never identify any filters in our thinking we remain slaves to thinking which has been imprinted rather than chosen.

Note: It is important that our children learn to be thinkers too. When you hear them express an opinion about something ask them why they think that way. Then, depending on how they answer, help them to learn to explore their own thinking.


  • You learn nothing from experience. You only learn when you reflect on your experience. This is true in leadership experience too.
  • True reflection about experiences involves evaluating any presuppositions and assumptions you might have made.
  • The evidence or reflection on leadership experience is change in the leadership you provide.
  • We need to learn how to think about our own thinking. This is at the heart of leadership reflection.