Does Experience Still Matter at the Top?

A global decline in work satisfaction.

A rise in younger CEOs.

Are they connected?

When the Wall Street Journal asked ‘Young CEOs: Are They Up to the Job?’ it concluded that while younger leaders bring an aptitude for risk-taking, enthusiasm and innovation, they lack the people management, critical judgement and problem-solving skills perfected with lengthy tenure. To be successful in a world where happiness reigns and discretionary effort is no longer a relevant yardstick, does experience beat enthusiasm?

The energy of youth

Many young start-ups arrogantly shun traditional HR practices, believing they have transcended the need. In a bid to move fast and ‘disrupt’ from the outset, they neglect to formally protect future employees from harassment, bullying, emotional and impulsive management styles and favouritism, among other corporate minefields.

‘That stuff doesn’t happen here’ they declare. And maybe it didn't…at first.

Flat structures and an absence of appraisals, job descriptions or one-to-ones are routinely boasted alongside free pizza, pool tables and piss-ups in the list of ‘perks’ to boost happiness at work.

The ‘successful’ ones — those that enjoy heady investment rounds — ultimately implode when their rapidly growing tribe of disgruntled employees, desperate and sick of being ignored or threatened, are forced to blow the whistle. The offender? Inexperienced management that (consciously or not) tolerated a toxic culture that thwarted any pursuit of happiness at work.

Naively create a business without basic people practices at its heart and your people will undo you, often very publicly (ahem, Amazon, Uber, Hubspot). Pints and pizza just won’t cut it in the long run.

It’s interesting to review the organisations listed in Tech Crunch’s ‘10 of the most-funded startups to fail in 2017' then skim the ‘cons’ in their respective Glassdoor reviews. ‘Bad management’ and ‘toxic culture’ are rife. You can’t afford to ignore people in the pursuit of profit if you want to stick around.

The experience of age

Traditionally the CEO title followed years of practical experience moving up through the ranks, delivering a leader replete with management acumen that couldn’t be faked. And therein lies the rub. The natural checks and balances in this progressive rise to the top is no longer a given.

If we hope to be happy at work (who doesn’t?), the importance of this connection between leadership experience and job satisfaction cannot be ignored. The first empirical study into the relationship between manager competence and worker well-being (notably pursued by economists and not psychologists) found that satisfaction is positively linked to whether or not the boss worked his or her way up within the company.

Happy employees were more likely to work for managers who’d done their time rising up the ranks.

In offering our loyalty and energy to todays fast-tracked leaders, hoping for happiness in return, are we confusing knowledge with wisdom?

Knowledge versus wisdom

The distinction is subtle yet profound. We tend to feel it before we can articulate it and that sense, in itself, is a fine example of our own wisdom in action. While knowledge can be relatively quickly attained with self-discipline and drive, there is no short-cut to wisdom. Defined as ‘the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement’, wisdom, quite simply, takes time to earn.

If you want a leader who’ll help you find happiness at work, wisdom will always trump knowledge and here’s why:

Knowledge is written, wisdom is felt.

Knowledge is hoarded, wisdom is shared.

Knowledge is narrow, wisdom expands.

Knowledge separates, wisdom unites.

Knowledge is static, wisdom evolves.

Knowledge wants the spotlight, wisdom is humble.

Knowledge defends, wisdom supports.

Knowledge describes the past, wisdom sees the future.

And to borrow from the late Jimi Hendrix:

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”

In short:

Knowledge is good, but wisdom is better.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.