Do You Believe That Others Can Learn?

Do You Believe That Others Can Learn?

The drive to learn starts earlier in the human being than the sex drive,
and usually lasts longer!
—Peter Senge

Understanding our environment and the challenges we face is critically important to both individuals and organizations – 
especially in times of change. For people who are working to lead change, continuous learning is essential to our ability to adapt plans and processes to fit continuously changing conditions.

Global executives who excel at working around the world have a primary competency that outshines their skills in areas such as strategy or marketing: They are voracious learners in new situations. To lead effectively we also need to believe that others can learn as the story below illustrates.

Believing That People Can Learn

In 1995 I had the privilege of meeting Hun Jo Lee, who was then chairman of LG Group, the Korean chaebol (conglomerate) that employed more than 160,000 people and was beginning to expand globally. Dr. Lee had traveled to America to meet with consultants at Arthur D. Little, Inc., where I was working, to learn more about the field of organizational learning. He knew that his employees needed to learn about and adapt to a changing world in order to survive and thrive in the global economy.

Dr. Lee was a scholar in the Confucian tradition, and very thoughtful. During our first conversation he paused and asked me, “Do you think my people can learn?” This was a challenging question for a young consultant who had never been in Korea! I thought for a minute, and then responded: “Well, it depends; do you believe they can learn?” He thought about this for several minutes and then responded strongly, “Yes, I believe they can!” I nodded, and we began our work together.

It was Dr. Lee’s belief in his people’s ability to learn and adapt that enabled him to launch a major and sustained effort to expand and deepen shared learning across LG’s organizations. It is this openness to continuous learning that enables organizations to succeed in the ever- changing conditions of the expanding global market.

Reflection Questions — Ask yourself, do I engage with others as learning partners?

Am I:

  • Listening as if the person speaking is telling a truth that I 
really need to know? 

  • Suspending my assumptions and listening to understand the other person’s perceptions? 

  • Appreciating the logic of the other person’s viewpoint, even if it differs from my own logic?

As always, please share with me what you are learning.


For more on this topic, see Practice 5: Learning and Adapting to Change, in my book,Leading for Results.

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