One of the greatest benefits a long-term leader can bring to his or her organization is their experience. The experienced leader has seen it all before. The experienced leader isn’t likely to get fazed by the bump in the road. The experienced leader is the face of calm in the midst of the storm.
But the experienced leader can also be missing the boat-and with it, opportunities.
During the fifteen years that I led my team as executive producer of Seattle’s legendary comedy TV show Almost Live!, I gained an enormous amount of experience. Things that would send me into a panic during the first few years became old hat. Guest cancels at the last minute? No problem. A taped comedy sketch turns into a piece of crap in the editing room? Big deal. Cast member collapses from full cardiac arrest in front of a packed studio audience? Yawn. (Okay, that last one was a bit of a challenge. But we got through it-as did the cast member, who made a full recovery.)
The point is that after awhile, whatever you, or the fates, or the TV gods could throw at me, I’d already been there and done that.
And that’s a dangerous place to be. Here’s why.
- With experience can come complacency. When you feel like you’ve “been there, done that, seen it all,” it’s easy to think there’s nothing else to learn. You start coasting (whether you’re aware of it or not). You lose that “edge” that comes from operating, at least partially, in the danger zone. The problem is that your competition is still learning, and still has their edge. SOLUTION: Make continuous learning a conscious agenda item that you put on your calendar!
- Experience can cause you to make poor decisions. I know, this seems counterintuitive, right? Here’s what I mean. Things change. This should not be a shocker for you. Things change. And sometimes, having a wealth of experience (which, by definition, was acquired in the past) can cause you to make decisions based on what worked before, rather than what’s happening in the current market. And, as you and I both know, what worked before is not necessarily what’s going to work today-and it almost certainly isn’t what’s going to work tomorrow! SOLUTION: Be on a continuous lookout for emerging trends in your industry.
- Experience can lead to “same old, same old” thinking. As the old adage says, “You don’t change a winning game.” People with experience tend to have more winning games than losing games (although, to be sure, they do have their share of losing games!). And so people with experience can fall into a “lather, rinse, repeat” cycle, devoid of fresh ideas. But here’s the thing: you do change a winning game. In fact, you have to. That’s because everything else is changing, and if your game doesn’t change along with it, you’re going to fall behind. Fresh ideas move your game forward. SOLUTION: Bring people into your team who think differently than you do.
Look, experience is a great advantage. But it can be a disadvantage if it’s the only thing you rely on when making decisions. You need to supplement your experience with continuous learning, knowledge of emerging trends, and fresh ideas from people who think differently than you do if you, as a leader, really want to produce breakthrough results.
QUESTION: What are some other dangers, as a leader, of relying too heavily on experience? Please share your experience in the Comments section below.