Building a Learning Culture

By | October 26, 2021

[October 26, 2021]  One of the many surprises that I encountered as a military flag officer was the number of uneducated civilians working in their chosen field.  By uneducated, I don’t mean they lacked a formal college degree, but they had stopped their education in any meaningful way. They must have figured that all they needed was to “punch their ticket” by earning an academic degree, and that would make them successful. However, the challenge for all leaders is to build a learning culture that carries throughout a person’s career, and if lucky enough, throughout their lifetime.

Indeed, there were civilians and military personnel who obtained their education credentials from a suspect college. I had the bad luck of working with a handful of civilians in the Department of Defense who were functionally illiterate but possessed college degrees. This gets back to the lack of accountability in many organizations. More on this later. Yet, I had to ask myself, “why were these people not furthering their education?” Why did they not take the opportunity to learn? In many organizations, the availability to learn is there, but the organization has no learning culture.

The most successful leaders want a workplace that drives innovation, tries new things, and encourages problem-solving. To make this happen, as we see in the best of organizations, it is done in a workplace environment that embraces continuous learning. Of course, this discussion is not just about academic education. It’s also about leaders creating a high-impact learning environment that gives employees the right mental tools and motivates them to do more.

There are several things leaders must do to ensure a continuous learning environment:

  1. Build trust and confidence in learning
  2. Show the value of learning
  3. Provide educational and exceptional learning opportunities
  4. Establish a process where what is learned can be shared
  5. Empower employees to learn
  6. Construct a formal learning system

This is an exciting area for leaders. The investment in their time and energy is small relative to the benefit. Leaders can lead learning through their personal actions, organizational policies, and through their encouraging efforts. In doing so, they will be encouraging a work environment that is enduring and thriving … and successful.

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Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Building a Learning Culture

  1. Dog Man

    “This is an exciting area for leaders. The investment in their time and energy is small relative to the benefit.” This is Gen. Satterfield’s key point. Those leaders – CEOs, plt ldrs, presidents, – that fail to encourage learning are ultimately doomed to fail. That doesn’t mean throwing money at it, but really getting down in the trenches (as Gen. Satterfield tells us), get to work and make learning something that everyone can get behind.

    Reply
  2. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Gen. Satterfield, your #5 is vague, “Empower employees to learn.” I would like to see you do an article on this in the future. In the old days at my work place, they used to say “empower employees.” It was just a catchphrase. The meaning ? I couldn’t figure it out.

    Reply
    1. Frankie Boy

      I think it means you give more responsibility to your employees and also give them the resources with a bit of guidance. Let them succeed or fail. Then help them if they fail.

      Reply
  3. Nick Lighthouse

    A learning culture, IMHO, is one that requires leadership at ALL levels. It originates and is overseen by the top leader but all must participate. Eventually it becomes just part of the everyday expectation. Nothing wrong with that but a learning culture can never survive on autopilot.

    Reply
    1. Willie Strumburger

      One of my favorites:
      “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

      Reply
  4. Max Foster

    Many ways to build a learning culture…. I want to make myself clear …. building one when there is none in place. I will make the point, and just my honest opinion, that this starts at the top with the most senior person. They are the one that can see the long term gain. Mostly, and I will say it no matter the blowback, most men in leadership positions can see the long game, less so women in leade3rship positions. That’s the way I see it. Hahahaha my truth! Regardless who is the boss, that’s where it starts.

    Reply
    1. Janna Faulkner

      Apology accepted. Sadly, I’ve seen the same thing over and over. Women in leader positions have something to prove and thus their focus on short term success. That tactic doesn’t necessarily work in the longer term.

      Reply
  5. Eric Coda

    Another spot-on publication from Gen. Satterfield. Well done. Hey, Gen. Satterfield, how about giving us an article on how the DOJ is going after moms for speaking up at School Board meetings. Just a thought.

    Reply
  6. Tomas Clooney

    Good article, Gen. Satterfield. I’ve been out of country for a while working so having had the pleasure reading your stuff in a while. Keep up the great job you are doing for us.

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Hi Tomas, good to see you back at Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. I was too out for a while but I make it a point not to miss anything on this website, esp. the comments section. BTW, Gen. S. had a book signing last weekend so you might want to congratulate him and his wife Nancy for their success.

      Reply

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