Learning is not fun

Leadership and Organizational Development

Yet leadership should encourage it

It is not anything new that leaders have to take on multiple roles. But sometimes having to take on the role of a mentor when explaining something to an employee or guiding them through a thought experiment, often causes discomfort on both sides.

When was the last time you and your supervisor discussed or worked on something so intensively that you both learned from it?

Ideally, the whole organization learns. A learning organization is necessary to be successful in the market. At Toyota there is an old joke that the company is the largest training center with car production facilities attached. Learning should take place continuously – also because it is fun. But is that true?

What actually happens in the process of learning? And when does it take place? Learning involves changing one’s own pattern for interpretation. Learning is therefore often preceded by a wrong judgment. It is based on realizing that something is different than previously thought. Learning is not the ability to accumulate knowledge. This would be proof of one’s own ability to remember or their capacity to absorb information, and not the ability to understand a situation. But who likes wrong judgments? Who feels good after being wrong? No one likes to be wrong – especially when those around them notice it right away.

The contradiction becomes apparent: On the one hand, we know that making mistakes is necessary, on the other hand we do not want to experience making one. So as leaders, we should not be surprised if employees do not have fun when there is the risk of making a mistake. A differentiated response to the question of why and what should be learned, considerably reduces the risk. As long as the rationale behind lifelong learning relies solely on the demand to adapt to economic requirements – the market determines what you should learn – learning will be considered more an act of subjugation (limitation of autonomy) rather than an act of liberation.

However, we can only learn through discernment if we can voluntarily change our attitude towards the subject. Then we are able to offer our allegiance, not because we have to, but because we want to. 

A learning organization is necessary to be successful in the market.

frank krause, senior partner, staufen ag
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