Unconditional Learner

Current Issue
read current issue of pease strategic edge
Previous Issue
read previous issues of pease strategic edge

March 2019

Unconditional Learner

Just a few days ago I was reading on the topic of learning in organizations. As I began my reading, some of my early thinking on this subject was that it was going to be rather straightforward and basic. It wasn’t. The subject of learning in organizations is quite interesting.

Have you ever thought of learning as basically a “coercive” task? Maybe not. According to organizational learning expert, Diane Coutu, with almost all kinds of authentic learning comes learning anxiety. As we choose to learn, we are soon confronted with the challenge of unlearning, re-learning and basically changing our thinking about what we think we know. Sounds simple but when you think about it, it is compelling.

Coutu offers that there are two types of anxiety associated with learning; “learning anxiety” and “survival anxiety”. Learning itself she suggests, will take place when “survival anxiety rises above learning anxiety”. It is similar to the old maxim, “people can change when they have to”.

But the question that comes up is, can someone be a willing, willful learner? Certainly they can. When I consider my clients, it appears evident that I am interacting with natural learners. The next question that arises is how can leaders lead and serve their followers to be agile, willful learners? The answer is that leaders must establish and maintain an environment quite friendly tothe process of learning.

Transformational leadership and transformational learning are related and impact the organization in markedly favorable ways when established.

Influencing learners (self included) to suspend or subordinate preconceptions and preconditions is fundamental to becoming a willing, open learner – an unconditional learner if you will. Organizations truly would earn their label learning organization by establishing a culture where leaders are genuine learners themselves, setting clear example and building a climate of psychological safety that invites others in to an energizing process.

Coutu, Diane L., (2002) “The Anxiety of Learning,” Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. Republished. Anderson University. (2016): p. 176-182. BUS 530, Leadership and Ethics. McGraw-Hill.


Receive usable observations, commentary, methods and research directly related to organizational and individual development by signing up to receive PSP’s bi-monthly e-mail communique, the Pease Strategic Edge