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What Prevents Leaders From Moving Forward?

Are Enemies of Learning Holding You Back

What Prevents Leaders From Moving Forward?

The first step in becoming a better leader is recognizing what stands in the way of learning new behavior. These barriers are our Enemies of Learning. Effective leaders recognize Enemies of Learning and give themselves permission to act in ways that were previously unavailable to them.

Enemies of Learning block creativity and imagination, and they block progress in becoming the leaders, friends, parents, spouses and colleagues we can be. These Enemies of Learning are described below:

  • Giving learning a low priority. Without a focus on learning, it is easy to allow ideas and behaviors to become stagnant. Leaders must continually consider their strengths and developmental areas as they grow professionally and personally. Only a focus on learning and development will lead to improvement and increased success.
  • Refusing to admit or accept that we do not know. An important step in being a more effective leader is to declare that one does not know—to question everything one believes. This attitude makes it possible to consider different perspectives and to learn from others. Rarely do people receive praise for saying, “I don’t know,” but learning takes place only when one makes that declaration and only when one is curious.
  • Confusing information with learning. A great deal of formal educational includes learning facts and information, much of which is retained for only a few days. Genuine learning includes not only facts and concepts, but it also means taking on new behavior that becomes comfortable over time. Ideally, learning leads to wisdom—judicious thought and decisions based on experience and knowledge.
  • Unwillingness to unlearn old behaviors. Old behavior is comfortable. Learning something new is often uncomfortable. Clinging to old behavior, however, limits possibilities. Old behavior gets in the way of productive action.Learn and Lead
  • Unwillingness to accept and deal with emotions associated with new learning. Learning includes the possibility of failure and embarrassment. Fear and concern about loss of control prevent new learning and limits new possibilities. Only when individuals accept uncertainty, discomfort and lack of control do they increase their possibilities.
  • Unwillingness to accept emotions as part of learning. In addition to recognizing that new learning generates emotions, it is important to remember that new learning is frequently dependent on emotions. Learning something new largely depends on the emotions surrounding that new learning (Caine & Caine, 1994). The emotional environment and context often determines one’s ability to learn and grow.
  • Unwillingness to accept fun as an important to learning. Just as research on new learning highlights the importance of emotion in learning, it also highlights the significance of fun. Fun simply enhances learning and makes learning more likely to take place (Caine & Caine, 1994).
  • Unwillingness to include the body in learning. Learning resides in the body. Simply reading or hearing a new idea or new activity does not convey new learning. Only when a person can use his body to perform an action or describe a concept clearly and easily has learning really occurred.
  • Unwillingness to grant someone else authority to teach us. Often it is necessary to learn from others. Only with trust that others can teach us and the belief that others have something to offer can we learn from someone else.  However, a perception that one already knows what she needs to know or one knows more than someone else prevents learning valuable and useful information, perceptions and skills.
  • Believing that I cannot learn because of who I am or what has happened to me in the past. The belief that one cannot learn because of past failure or poor perceptions of one’s ability is a particularly insidious Enemy of Learning.  A belief that “this is who I am” prevents valuable breakthroughs. Recognizing and learning to minimize negative messages is an important part of effectively learning new leadership behavior.

“Enemies of Learning” revised from Connect: Affective Leadership℠ for Effective Results (Boyer, 2011) adapted from Julio Olalla (2005), founder of Newfield Network.

The activity below is particularly helpful in identifying Enemies of Learning and in developing a plan to minimize them. Review each of the “Enemies of Learning” and reflect in writing on the following questions:

  • List your top three Enemies of Learning. What have they cost you? Do they limit your possibilities? If so, how?
  • Why are they powerful? How can you reduce that power?
  • What did parents and teachers tell you about yourself when you were a child? How has that affected you as an adult?
  • What will defeat your Enemies of Learning?
  • What do you need or want to learn to become the person you want to become?
  • What are the Enemies of Learning in your group or organization? How can you minimize them?
  • How can you emphasize learning in your group or organization?
  • What are your thoughts on Enemies of Learning? What are other Enemies of Learning or other ideas for minimizing them? online training tutorials


  • Boyer, L. (2011). Connect: Affective Leadership for effective results. Bradenton, FL: Leadership Options.
  • Caine, R., & Caine, G. (1994). Making connections: Teaching and the  human brain. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Olalla, J. (2005). From knowledge to wisdom. Reston, Virginia: Newfield Network.

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