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You’ve determined that you want to do things differently, learn something new, and think and behave in more constructive ways.

You’ve gone to a course, read a book, you may have even tried out some new practices and yet you don’t seem able to make the changes stick.

♦  What attitudes, beliefs and expectations are you bringing to the learning opportunity?

♦  Have you considered what might be your barriers to learning?

Take some time to reflect on whether any of the following barriers may be preventing you from achieving your goals.

1.  Lack of  the Right Focus – you are not Fully Present

If you are watching an inspirational video or you are on a webinar you might be multi-tasking. You have several screens or tabs open on your computer. Or even though you’ve turned off the volume on your smartphone you are addicted to the thrill of a notification.  You are itching to take a peek  to reply to an email or to see how many likes you received on social media. As David Rock explains in Your Brain at Work, multi-tasking is generally not effective and, indeed, is counter-productive.

At a training event you want to look  like you are “leadership material.”  Or you are competitive and are rehearsing responses and smart quips in your head to share with the participants. Your focus is on the image you present, rather than being present and fully participating in the learning opportunity.

If you are someone accomplished at analysis, reading lengthy and complicated reports you continuously “Compare and Contrast.”  It has become your habit and you do it across the board, not just in the office. Consequently you are too busy focusing on what you already know or finding holes in the what is being demonstrated to absorb the learning.

2. Resistance

Perhaps you have built your reputation on being right and knowing it all so you don’t grant authority to the teacher.  You are cynical and not open to new ideas and experimenting. You act as though “I’ve been there, done that, got the T-Shirt” rather than being open to a different way of approaching the issue.

You get bored easily and don’t put in enough practice or you don’t see your desired results quickly enough so you give up too soon. Excellence requires many hours of repetition.  This is recognised by those who are accomplished in Martial Arts such as George Leonard. Also see  Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew Syed on the “10,000- Hour rule.”

Or you may be someone who is driven and you focus on the 20% you got wrong rather than the 80% you got right. You lack Self-Compassion, which you consider is for “wimps” and  you are not patient with your progress,  beating yourself up for making mistakes.

3. Fear

Perhaps as an expert you believe that you have to demonstrate Gravitas. You fear looking stupid or incompetent. So  you don’t approach the learning opportunity with childlike wonder, a willingness to experiment and calibrate.

You might subscribe to the view that leaders are strong and so you believe that you can’t display any vulnerability. Or  you are the boss and fear looking like you don’t  have all the answers so you avoid putting yourself into situations where you don’t already know the outcome.

Many go-getters have got up the corporate ladder by being extremely self-sufficient and not asking for or allowing others to help them. However, as you take on more seniority and lead more people you won’t be able to do it all, nor would it give your colleagues the opportunity to step up and feel valued for their input.

If you are a Perfectionist you are probably risk averse and hesitant to try things out in case you don’t deliver to your impossibly high standards and what you believe others expect of you.

4.  Over-reliance on your intellectual faculties

Are you someone who always wants clarity? You have a very strong need to know and are very uncomfortable with uncertainty, so you hesitate to step out of your comfort zone.

Perhaps you pride yourself on your intellectual capacities. Yet you lack  awareness of  how your body and emotions impact your ability to learn. We are not just “brains on a stick.”  We need to  adjust our mood and physical orientation to being open and curious to getting the most out of a learning opportunity.

You have a pile of books on your bedside table, you love to read and talk about what you are learning intellectually without experiencing the new behaviour or practice. Without practising you can’t embody your new learning.

Do any of these 4 barriers to learning sound familiar to you? Are any of these getting in your way? Any there other things you’ve observed in yourself or others that prevent you from becoming a more effective learner and leader?

I invite you to reply to me below or call me to discuss on UK +44 (0) 20 7226 3611 or +44 (0) 7952 068133. 

We can explore what is relevant for you and how we could partner together so that you are open to learning, embrace the phase of incompetence and practise to embody your learning to become the leader you want to be.



Outliers (2009) Malcolm Gladwell
Mastery: They Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment (1991) George Leonard
Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter all Day Long (2009) David Rock
The Leadership Dojo (2007) Richard Strozzi-Heckler
Bounce (2011) Matthew Syed



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