Human Resource Practitioners and Corporate Leaders: Why have you ignored the Best Teacher?

Are you a leader? Do you know that your commitment to Continuous Learning and Performance Improvement is a very important value and competence for both you and your organization? Most people learn more by doing something than by reading about it. Therefore experience in the Best Teacher but the most painful and sometimes very expensive. Read on to understand how it can work for you.

Cone of Learning

“Experience is the teacher of all things,”  The great Roman leader Julius Caesar recorded the earliest known version of this proverb in ‘De Bello Civili’ (c. 52 B.C.).


I believe you have given an affirmative response to the question. The ability to learn is the ultimate leadership skill. If leaders possess the ability to learn effectively from experience, everything else takes care of itself.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Be a leader in the 21st Century from the basic routine to the highest executive position of responsibility bestowed upon you. You are should lead even without a title. Therefore all people who are alive are leaders and the only those exempt are the dead. The biggest tragedy is not death but what we allow to die while we live.

I will begin by defining the key two words Value and Competence. Values are the standards, ethics and principles which guide the actions and behaviour of worker. Competences are in duo: That is core Competence and managerial / supervisory competences. Core competences defined as  the skills, behaviour and work related attributes that are considered important for all workers regardless of their grades, positions or functions. Managerial and supervisory competences are the skills, behaviour and work related attributes that are considered essential for workers who have managerial and supervisory responsibilities.


Contemporary organizations are seeking leaders who are authentic, adaptable, open to change, and resilient in the face of adversity. What ties these qualities together? At the end of the day it is all about learning! If leaders possess the ability to learn effectively from experience, everything else takes care of itself.
However, the ability to learn is a surprisingly rare skill, and it isn’t nurtured in most business environments. What the B-Schools teach is archaic because current information is considered market intelligence. The secret formula.

Research suggests that only a small percentage of managers are innately gifted with the capability to learn in a way that supports navigating in choppy waters, handling first time conditions and seeing the novel problems that lie around corners.

Those who are not innately gifted learners have to build new routines that move them outside their comfort zone and away from the tried and true when confronting challenges not previously seen. The blind and unknown windows according Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham the inventors of Johari Window model. In their psychological model helped to explain personal awareness.

As leaders build greater capacity to handle tomorrow as well as today, it is equally important that the organization gets unstuck and moves to embed learning into major systems and processes.

Organizations that learn from experience reinforce leaders who do the same. In turn, leaders who learn from experience are less likely to let their organizations get stuck. Such leaders and organizations are able to recognize changes in customer or client or citizen need, master the upside of technological capability, and see opportunities in                socio- economic shifts – but they are far too few in number. These are a rare species.

Surveys of top executives conducted by major consulting firms have consistently cited a supply-demand gap in leadership talent. For instance Boston Consulting Group reported leaders needing to be more agile and adaptable and IBM cited the lack of the ability to handle the growing complexity and volatility of current challenges.

Today’s format for creating leaders looks like this: organizations seek intelligent, skilled and motivated people, who they then teach the competences needed to relate (team work) and lead. But few organizations teach people how to extract more learning from their experiences in a self-directed way.

The knowing-doing gap: Key questions

Why is it so difficult to leverage experience and grow learners and organizations?

Why don’t we see more emphasis on learning from experience?

With all the research and understanding of the power and importance of experience as the teacher. Why have organizations spent the lion’s share of their time and resources on the delivery of training and the development of competences—rather than on creating adaptability, nurturing the ability to learn, building resiliency and developing competence?

Part of the answer lies in an “unwitting collusion” that stands squarely in the way of learning from experience. Despite our best intentions, our emphasis on performance has driven out the potential teaching power of experience. We know that most business cultures reinforces short-term performance – quarter and half year results, but there are other forces that make learning difficult.

Number one, powerful learning is hard work! It often involves “going against the grain”, a predictable decrement in short-term performance, and the feelings of loss that come with letting go of tools and strategies that generated success and rewards in the past. While it ultimately yields the rewards of growth, accomplishment, and success that we all seek – it also comes packaged with such feelings as risk, discomfort, and trepidation. Combine these factors with the rapid pace of our world and the pressure-filled demand for constant performance, and it is easy to see why people keep doing what they already know how to do!

We say we want others to tackle and learn from new situations, but we feel most comfortable assigning them tasks we know they can accomplish. We encourage them to “let go and learn” even as we punish them for the inevitable slips in performance that are part and parcel of the learning process. We push people to change, but fail to align the organization to support them through the process. As individuals, we fall into the trap of shying away from experiences that might expose any shortfalls in performance, and fail to recognize when our established routines and patterns are not well suited for the complexity and ambiguity of a world in constant flux. The inevitable result is a leadership pipeline filled with “high potentials” who are woefully unprepared to lead in the complex environment unfolding before them.

The best leaders and organizations are continuous learners with a deliberate, disciplined and systematic approach to make experience matter.How do you measure against this ideal benchmark?

I hope you will embrace life-long learning that is self-paced both from books and best but most painful teacher  (experience). Remember Mark Twain said that “a man who does not read good books has not advantage over a man who can’t read them”.


I stumbled on this article on the web. I have improved by including relevant examples. It was  initially co-authored by  Kerry Bunker, Art Gechman  and Jim Rush. Their brief profiles are as follows: Kerry Bunker, Ph.D., is a former senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership. He is a leading researcher on learning how to learn, author of two books, 40 publications and the popular Harvard Business Review article, The Young and the Clueless.

Human Professionals you should Read the Law: Human Resource Management Professionals Act No. 52 Of 2012. This Act which assented on 31/12/2012 seeks to, among other things, establish the Institute of Human Resource Management as the overall organ of the human resource management professionals in Kenya. The Institute shall be responsible for the promotion, maintenance of standards and registration of human resource management professionals. This Act is in operation since 4/01/2013.

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2 thoughts on “Human Resource Practitioners and Corporate Leaders: Why have you ignored the Best Teacher?

  1. Festus Kigo - April 27, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Good one. Experience, if used effectively means everything.

  2. festus m kigo - April 27, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Yea. Let us pay every attention to experience.


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