A Study On Learning
Recently, I read an article from the 1990’s era Harvard Business review titled Teaching Smart People How to Learn by Chris Argyris that focused on learning in a corporate environment. In the article, Chris explained that the smartest or most educated people within an organization are the hardest ones to teach within the corporate environment. He also explained that those same people, when put in the academic environment, are very teachable and are very good at learning.
Chris identified that, within the organizations, the leaders generally have the highest level of education. He found that many leaders, when asked to look within themselves for areas of improvement, were very reluctant. They, in turn, found faults and reasons for failure in others. Often, they stopped learning and began playing the blame game.
What Does The Study Mean Today?
Even though Chris Argyris wrote this article several years ago, there is still a lot that we can learn from it today. There are two reasons why educated leaders become less teachable in the corporate environment compared to the academic environment.
- The academic environment is a safe house where everyone is equal.
- The division of authority and responsibility in the corporate world generates pride and the inability to learn.
The Safe House of the Academics
The academic world is a safe house for learning. Leaders in the academic world are continuously learning because they are very teachable and maintain their humility. In the learning/safe house environment, leaders are open to suggestion and willing to let their guard down. They enter the academic world with the expectation of learning something new so they are willing to be more vulnerable. Leaders also feel a sense of equality amongst their peers in the classroom.
The Pride of the Managers
In the corporate world, however, the safe house of learning is much less common due to the corporate ladder. Corporate leaders are given the authority to lead that includes additional responsibility. The natural disposition of someone that receives authority and/or responsibility is to feel they are superior.
This attitude of superiority causes some leaders to feel they are smarter, more experienced, and deserving because of their position. Although, it is true that a leader has specific qualifications, these arrogant leaders go too far by letting it go to their head. They stop learning in this environment because they feel that by learning and acknowledging it, they are showing a sign of weakness that then stunts their career growth.
Overcoming the Pride of the Position
For a leader to overcome the pride of the position, they must realize the organizational goals and understand that everyone is a part of the team. Once they grasp the team concept, they will begin to understand that the organization is only as strong as the weakest link.
Everyone must work together for the success of the group. This realization causes leaders to be more humble because they don’t have all the answers to every question. To overcome the pride of the position, leaders must have the attitude that they are continually learning, and it is okay to not be perfect. They must also understand that their success depends on the success of the whole team.
Ultimately, the success of any organization is a direct reflection of the leadership. When leaders accept and promote the attitude of “continual learning,” there will be much greater progress within the organization. Have you experienced or even been the unteachable leader before? How did you change your behavior for the benefit of the organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!