Experimentation as a Leadership Practice

experimentation as a leadership practice

Last month, I attended a wine dinner featuring the well-known Napa winemaker, Cathy Corison.  She spoke poetically about making other people’s wine for years before heeding the call of the wine that she knew was inside of her that wanted to be expressed.  She knew, with certainty, from 1974 that wine was her passion. 

I am always awed by the stories of founders, makers, artists, and activists who were seemingly born knowing what they were meant to do with their lives. 

I am not one of those people. 


I live life to experiment, to evolve and to re-imagine myself.  For most of my life, I’ve viewed this as a flaw – an inability to commit, focus or be satisfied.  I saw myself through the eyes of those closest to me who often asked, “What are you searching for?”  It took me years of trying different companies, different roles, and different industries to find the path I’ve been on for the past 14 years.  I used to regret the winding road of my career, wondering how much further along I might have been if I had walked a straighter path. 

Everyone has a superpower.  There is something about you that comes so naturally to you that you don’t think about it.  It lives in your bones. It inspires others.  It is your unique spin on life.  

I’ve come to realize that experimentation is my superpower – maybe not the one I would have chosen, but the one I got.  Only since I began digging into coaching have I realized that experimentation is not just a valuable tool, but it’s also a mindset that helps us get unstuck.

As Herminia Ibarra says in Working Identities, you cannot think yourself into a new way of being.  You have to do something.  Try on a new role.  Act differently. Try a new behavior. 


I know the impact of the work I do, and yet, when I hear myself describe myself as an executive coach doing leadership development and communication skills training, I know those words can sound empty and overused.  But beneath the jargon, this work is grounded on the principle that we all want to become who we know we can be.  We are all ever learning, growing and evolving as leaders and as people.  How much more could we learn if we experimented a little more? 

Leadership Lesson:  Consider conducting an experiment in your own life borrowing from the steps of the scientific method. 

1.  Frame the question.  For example, you notice that your team seems to be checked out of the weekly team meetings.  Your question might be, “What would it take for people to be actively involved in the meeting?”

2.  Do Research.  Do a quick Google search.  Read a couple of articles.  Talk with others.  Brainstorm a few ideas that you can test out.

3.  Conduct the experiment.   Back to the example of wanting more interesting meetings, you could say, “Our meetings are feeling stale lately, so I thought we could experiment and try something new in today’s meeting.  We’re going to brainstorm agenda items, prioritize it real-time and see how it goes.”  Notice people’s reactions throughout the meeting.  Where does energy ebb and flow?  At the end of the meeting, ask the group what they thought.   Keep iterating it based on the information you gather.

4. Approach it playfully.  Rather than worry about failure or something not working, know that there is no success or failure in an experiment.  There is just information on which to build.  Be intrigued to see what comes from the experiment.  Let it be a surprise rather than being tied to an outcome. 

How much more expansive would life be if it existed beyond the narrow confines of success or failure?  

Starla Sireno is an NYC Executive Coach. She partners with leaders to more effectively navigate the complexities of their roles, increase their influence at all levels, and hone their interpersonal communication skills in order to become more impactful both internally and in client-facing roles. Inquire how you can work with Starla or her team.

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