Take the Fear Out of Learning

Monday, April 13, 2015

One of the big reasons change initiatives fail is because people do not like to be pushed out of their comfort zones. That is only the surface emotion, though. A deeper reason that many people fear change is that they are uncomfortable with learning. Change—and learning—means absorbing new information, processing it, and acting on it. Sometimes, that is hard. There is one approach that works: when senior management takes the lead. 

Case in Point 

Not too many years ago, I was firsthand witness an organizational transformation at a major manufacturing company. Over the years, the company had been stuck in its ways, and as a result performance was flat. 

When a new CEO entered the picture, he turned the whole thing upside down—beginning with himself. He stood front and center leading the change, but also adopting new behaviors himself. He was set on engaging employees more directly, and at times actively teaching them. 


This sort of effort is embraced by CEO of HCL Technologies Vineet Nayar. Nayar explains in his book, Employees First, Customers Second, it is the responsibility of the senior team to show the way to others. “The role of the CEO is to enable people to excel, to help them discover their own wisdom, engage themselves entirely in their work, and accept responsibility for making change,” writes Nayar. In the end, that will only occur when the CEO and his team is front and center leading the change effort. 

Getting Leaders to Engage 


Bottom line: Learning is intrinsic to change. Here are some suggestions for leaders to engage in the learning process. 

  • Embrace the process. Often, change is dictated from on high, with the CEO telling everyone else they need to change. That is not good enough when it comes to modeling new behaviors. The top leaders need to do it before everyone else and serve as the role models.
  • Teach what you know. This is where leaders truly become engaged. They share their knowledge. It could be in formal sessions with high achievers or it could be in town hall setting. More often, and more regularly, it occurs wherever the leader is.
  • Be humble. Learning is exhilarating, but it also can be daunting. As children, our minds are open to new things; as adults, we close off some of the openness as a means of coping with the volume of what’s new. Not surprisingly, turning on the learning receptors can be challenging; it will mean getting out of your comfort zone and yes making mistakes. Do it—and acknowledge it. Others will welcome your openness. 

None of these techniques are new. In fact they are modeled after action learning principles used in education in schools and professions worldwide. The operative word for leaders is “engage.” Get involved in the learning process as student and teacher, and watch good things happen.



About the Author

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach, and speaks throughout North America and Europe. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead With Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide, and his books have been translated into 10 languages. He has also written more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications, including Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Bloomberg Businessweek. In 2015, Trust Across America named John to its list of the top 100 most trustworthy business experts for the second consecutive year. In 2014, listed him as a top 50 leadership expert and top 100 leadership speaker. Also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked him number 11 on its list of global leadership experts. John is chair of the leadership development practice of N2growth, a global leadership consultancy. His leadership resource website is  

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