It starts with a shift in you!

During my conversations with leaders, one leadership topic keeps showing up. Specifically, how a leader could create an environment that encourages learning.

It’s not as simple as just providing training for your team. I know of many leaders who’d gladly send their staff for training; even providing time and funding for them. While emphasising training is good, that alone would not create an environment that encourages learning.


When I was a student

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I got involved with a student group on campus; this group was an affiliate of a well-known global not-for-profit organisation.

While the group was mostly run by students, we had several staff workers from the organisation as advisors. Having these advisors around was a great advantage for us: they had a wealth of experience and had access to resources that could help us. We sought guidance from them to help us organise and run activities; they counselled us on life issues too.

During my senior year, I was a member of the core student leadership team and worked closely with one of the adult advisors. We enjoyed a really close relationship, one of trust and respect.


The Key to Creating an Environment that Encourages Learning

One time, the advisors had to be away for an extended time because of a major organisational project elsewhere. This caused some anxiety in the core leaders because we were recently tasks to plan and organise a national event that involved affiliated student groups from other college campuses. We have never done anything like that before, and we needed all the help we could get!


An unforgettable experience

While talking with the advisor and expressing my concern that we might mess something up, he told me he believed in us and had confidence that we would figure things out.

Then he said, “If you fail, you fail. Just learn from it!”



The Mindset

For him, the success of the event was not the most important thing. Stretching our faith, venturing beyond our comfort zone, and learning from our experience… Those are more important!

Even though the national event was a high stake one for us, knowing the advisor’s perspective liberated us to boldly attempt it. We gave our best and thoroughly enjoyed organising it!

When the advisor returned, one of the first questions he asked us was, “What did you learn from the experience?”

I had other experiences where I had to attempt new things; sometimes I succeeded, other times I failed. In every one of those experiences, the emphasis was always on what I had learned from it, instead of the success or failure.

The most important lesson I learned from those experiences: the mindset is the key to creating an environment that encourages learning!

I’ve carried that mindset with me since then.

“If you fail, you fail. Just learn from it!”


The Shift

I have heard leaders talk about wanting to create an environment that encourages learning. Yet as long as they continue to view the success of the tasks as the most important thing, they will not have that environment.

If the tasks are most important, we are more likely to:

  • not tolerate failure,
  • add pressure on our team to perform, and
  • stress ourselves out.

To create an environment that encourages learning, a leader needs to have a shift in his/her mindset.

I’m not saying that we should disregard the tasks or goals; after all, a team exists to fulfil its mission. I am saying that with a learning environment, your team will be in a better place to fulfil your mission!


Here are some considerations that might help you make the shift:

  1. How committed are you towards creating an environment that encourages learning? What price are you willing to pay to get there?
  2. What obstacles, within yourself, would you need to overcome to start creating the learning environment?
  3. How would you invest in your team members’ growth? (Remember that growth is about learning, not about training.)
  4. What could you put in place (systems, processes, KPI’s, etc.) to help you make that shift?


What about you?

How is your current mindset affecting your ability to create an environment that encourages learning?

What other mindset shifts might be helpful for creating a team environment that encourages learning?


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