4 Ways Leaders Create a Culture that Learns and Grows

By Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, MCC

People don’t remember things just because you told them it was important to remember. Even if they remember, they won’t change their behavior just because they were told it is the right and best thing to do. The most inefficient way of teaching is telling. In order for people to learn, and to create a work culture that learns and grows, people have to be emotionally engaged in the topic.

The two worst ways to teach

When you tell people what to do, your words go into their short-term memory. This container is limited in capacity. Your words compete with worries about current projects, the list of tasks and phone calls to be made, the scores of emails that just popped up, Internet articles, interoffice mail, family matters and what they judge you mean even when you didn’t use those words.

When you scare people into learning, they will remember but the information becomes permanent so they can act without thinking. This keeps people from adapting new behaviors in the future.

For example, when you give people an ultimatum or indicate there will be negative consequences if they don’t do something, anytime they face a similar situation they react in the same way. They behave the way they learned. There is no analysis. There is no considering possibilities. They focus and perform by repeating what they learned under duress.

This is why people resist change – they learned to do things under pressure and fear. They learned to do something one way and now it is difficult if not impossible to change their minds. It is easier to learn new behavior than to try to rewire the brain to do things differently if you learned something through fear.

The best way to teach people to learn and grow

If you want people to be able to act thoughtfully, creatively or strategically, activate emotions in your conversation that trigger neurotransmitters to store information in long-term memory. When people experience pride, dignity, laughter, compassion, gratitude, joy, achievement, contribution, and personal wins, the experience is stored in long-term memory where it is accessible to new ideas and experiences. This leads to agile learning and creative. People are able to build on and adapt what they learn to new situations.

Tips for creating a culture of learning and growing

  1. Teach people by sharing inspiring and humorous stories, relevant cartoons, identifiable and meaningful metaphors, and compelling examples. Information delivered with pleasurable and heartfelt emotions is quickly transferred into long-term memory. The facts may be lost, but the stories and the messages live on.
  2. Make sure they know your intent is to help them achieve one of their desired goals. People listen to leaders who care about them and their futures. The most memorable leaders are those that helped us see we could do more than we thought was possible to achieve our goals.
  3. Use a coaching approach. Be curious and ask questions as if you are learning too. Let them explain how they see their situations. As they tell their stories, ask about the desires, disappointments, and fears you sense they are feeling. Ask them what else could be true or possible. When you help them think for themselves, their blind spots come to light. The pleasure that goes along with discovery triggers a wave of brain activity.
  4. Encourage trials and experiments. Praise effort as well as results. Learning is enhanced by practice, then they need praise to go the distance. Adults need approval and acknowledgment as much as children do. They also need a little room to learn from their mistakes.

If you want people to change and grow, be inspirational. Show you care about their future. Listen, and allow for mistakes. A learning culture produces smart, productive employees.

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