Many leaders have high ambition and significant expectations of themselves. Yet they perceive others achieving at a higher level or judge themselves in comparison and feel they aren’t realizing their full potential. Sometimes this can be a motivator to work harder and to put in extra time in the office. In other instances, it can be a source of frustration and deep underlying stress. For both situations it may be helpful to remember that there are elements of our potential that we can only reach through one methodology – the knowledge gained through the passage of time.
In a quick fix culture, we forget about the power of incremental gains. In frustration we try and short circuit the iterative nature of gaining wisdom. It’s human nature to do so. And in the Google age, we may have become convinced that we can be prepared for anything, at any level, if we have the right information at our finger tips. However, as a leader the moment of truth occurs when we realize the gap between what we want to do and what we do or how we behave in a critical moment. The discrepancy between knowing what to do and actually doing it can seem a huge chasm for those that lack experience.
Albert Einstein said, “Experience is knowledge, all the rest is information. The only source of knowledge is experience.” In all endeavors, the passage of time opens other opportunities and enlightens in a way that no form of study could create. We may get frustrated that things aren’t moving fast enough, that we aren’t learning fast enough, or that we continue to feel as though we just don’t get it. If we apply patience, time will help to solve those issues.
The positive part about allowing time to build experience for us is that it allows us to carve our own path, unique to us. When we read about leadership strategies, tactics and techniques, they aren’t fully realized in us until we practice them and make them our own. Each of us has specific strengths and abilities. We only really realize those strengths when all the information comes together to allow us to have an approach that is truly our own, set about within our own style and individual wisdom. I call this concept “the insight action loop.” This is a repeatable system where new action informs new insight, which then informs new action. A higher level of insight is never achieved if there isn’t new action taken.
I’ve often expressed the process of learning new things as an analogy of entering a room in a house. When walking into that room for the first time it takes me a while to take note of all the things in the room, where everything is placed, and what everything does. Over time, the room and content locations become very familiar and I could probably navigate blindfolded. Once I know it like “the back of my hand,” I suddenly realize there is a door I never noticed before. I was only able to realize the door was there because I spent so much time in the room. All the elements of my room are the same except for this new door. When I open the door, there is an entirely new room beyond it to learn about, in addition to the old one. This analogy can be used with anything that is a new experience for you.
The bad news is that there is no short cut to experience. Malcolm Gladwell made popular the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve expertise. But it isn’t time alone that creates expertise – practicing intentionally and effectively make all the difference. The good news is that incremental learning, with insight informing action and creating new insights that inform new action, truly works. It creates not just wins in the moment, but sustainable growth over time. So, if you can wait a bit to be great, you will eventually realize greater effectiveness and achievement in your role than your less experienced mind could ever imagine.