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A look back at The Lessons of Experience research project

A look back at The Lessons of Experience research project

By In breaking the glass ceiling, dr. randall p. white, Uncategorized On November 2, 2018


From CCLThe Center for Creative Leadership celebrated the 30th anniversary of the publication of The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job by Morgan W. McCall, Jr., Michael M. Lombardo and Ann M. Morrison, on October 29. Having sold more than 50,000 copies, the book continues to be read by a new generation of leaders and talent management professionals.

The event featured a colloquium that explored the origins of the Lessons of Experience research project, applications of the research findings to the work of leader development, and contemporary views of learning-from-experience in organizations.

Four of the original collaborators—Mike Lombardo, Randy White, Bob Eichinger, and Steve Wall—shared the “story behind the story” as CCL researchers and human resource practitioners worked together to understand how executives learn, grow, and change over their careers. Panel facilitator, Rob Kaiser, then asked current and former CCL staff members George Hallenbeck, Micela Leis, Cindy McCauley, Russ Moxley and Ellen Van Velsor to describe how Lessons of Experience continued to make an impact on leader development research and practice.  Talent management practitioners Jeff McHenry, Mary Plunkett and Allan Church concluded the session with insights and inspirations from their own efforts to put experience at the center of leader development.

About The Lessons of Experience:

The research that led to this publication had its origins in a six-month period (spanning 1981-1982) as a collaboration emerged between four organizations (Union Carbide, Sun Company, Armco and Westinghouse) and three CCL researchers (and eventual authors of the book). The relationship was formalized in CCL’s Research Sponsors Program. Goodyear, PepsiCo and Robinhood Multifoods soon joined the program and the research efforts.

The “issue of mutual interest” that bound this group together was how executives learn, grow and change throughout their careers. The data at the core of the book came from 191 successful executives from six major corporation who responded to some form of the question:

When you think about your career as a manager, certain events or episodes probably stand out in your mind—things that led to a lasting change in you as a manager. Please identify at least three key events in your career, things that made a difference in the way you manage now. What happened? What did you learn from it (for better or worse)?

The research established the foundational messages of the book: Executives learn primarily on the job from challenging assignments, hardships and other people. Some experiences are more developmental than others. Different experiences teach different lessons. Yet the book also captures what came to light as the authors worked with human resources professionals and senior line executives to actually implement the finding from the research.

Lessons of Experience spawned a new stream of leader developed research. It began to lay out a workable approach for leveraging the power of experiences for leader development—an approach that today’s practitioners continue to reinvent and transform. Yet making experience-driven development work is not as easy as it sounds. For those who continue to shape, nudge and guide this work, Lessons of Experience remains a source of insight and inspiration.

(Photo: CCL. Left to right: Bob Eichinger, Randy White, Mike Lombardo, Steve Wall)

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