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Experience or Contribution?

It was one of those “snap” experiences.  I was the second speaker at a conference.  Unbeknown to me, the first speaker had framed his presentation on the exact same topic that I had prepared for. It was one of those situations where I saw failure on the horizon as I frantically wondered how much I was going to have to delete from my notes.  As it turned out, it was fantastic to hear Dr Matt Kutz speak with clarity and energy on the subject of contextual intelligence.  Encountering his work was like finding a missing puzzle piece that I’d been looking for.  His book, “Contextual Intelligence” is absolutely worth reading.

I want to consider one of Matt’s assertions that, in order to respond well as leaders in constantly changing environments, we need to be thinking in terms of contribution rather than experience.

Most leaders work their way into leadership roles over time on the basis of study and experience.  We “prove our worth” through demonstrated capacity.  So, when challenges come, it is assumed that we have a bank of proven experience to draw from.  This is great when challenges are predictable but we’re no longer living in times of predictability.  So, the question must be asked: “Does experienced based leadership practice have any currency in an unpredictable world?” 

The answer, according to Dr Kutz is “yes” but “not for the reason you think.”  Effective leadership practice needs to pivot towards developing the skill to ask better questions and involve others in the process of navigating complexity.  Effective leaders bring their best contribution through naming the challenge and welcoming the capacities and experiences of the team.  Contemporary effective leadership understands that as change appears on the horizon, it’s possible that the novice may be more likely to have a solution for an emerging problem than the experienced leader.

Tania Watson