Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog would agree with the premise that challenging experiences are a critical element of leadership development. However, experience in-and-of-itself is not sufficient in transforming an individual. Many people are exposed to very rich learning experiences and emerge relatively unchanged. A key element is missing. For experience to deliver its full value and inform a person’s development, it must be internalized and applied. That’s when the real shift occurs – and where the power of questions comes into play.
The most important questions are not the questions we ask others, but the questions we ask ourselves. In my years of studying individuals who excel at learning from experience (i.e., highly learning agile individuals), one thing that distinguishes them from their peers is their penchant, nearly a compulsion in some cases, to engage in an ongoing, internal, question-fueled dialogue about their experiences.
This intentional sense-making process naturally varies from person to person, but typically involves these key components:
Before the Learning Event (Priming the Pump)
- How might this represent a new challenge for me?
- What might I learn as a result?
- How might lessons from past experiences apply?
During the Learning Event (Learning in Real Time)
- What’s important here?
- How am I feeling?
- What’s my intuition telling me?
- What are my actions telling me about what’s working/not working?
After the Learning Event (Reflecting and Sorting Through)
- What can I learn from what I (and others) did in this situation?
- How was I able to adapt lessons from other experiences?
- What feedback do I need to seek from others?
- How might this help me going forward?
So remember, learning from experience doesn’t happen just by the virtue of “being there” – it’s an active process and requires some degree of effort, intention, and willingness. Practice summoning and embracing the questions that will be the key to unlocking the full value of your life’s experiences.