Learning vs Arrogant Organizations: A Lesson in Survival


Learning organizations grow and live. Arrogant organizations die while looking back at the glory days. In my work as a consultant I can quickly assess if I am dealing with a learning or arrogant organization. No matter the size or age, learning organizations find themselves relevant to their audiences, while arrogant ones might continue to provide a product or service that fewer and fewer people seem to want. But when asked, no business, church, ministry would identify itself as arrogant. But here’s how I differentiate between them.

learning leading organization

Learning organizations ask the right questions. While we all want to do what we do better, sometimes that’s the wrong question to ask. “How should we do what we do better?” is a good question but “what should we be doing?” is a better one. You can improve your product or experience to the point of, not only diminishing returns, but obsolescence. You can manufacture the best typewriter in the world, but why would you?

Learning organizations know what they don’t know. The danger of success is the error of the transfer of expertise into areas where the leading team has none. it’s the arrogance that says, “we are so talented, smart and wise that we don’t need any help from the outside.” Trust me, what you don’t know will eventually catch up with you.

Learning organizations are led by life-long learners. Leaders set the culture of what they lead. That’s ever so evident when it come to a business or ministry’s ability to continually grow, ask the right questions and not become defensive when challenged by new ideas. If a leader is insecure, or non-teachable, he or she will create a culture of arrogance that will eventually stunt the growth and even kill the organization.

What’s your experience with a learning organization or an arrogant one?

  • Steven Shantz

    This is a good post. My organization is a 60 year old global ministry. We don’t always get it right, we struggle to be nimble and implementing change is difficult. We are touching lives around the world and in some of the most inaccessible places. I would say though that we are a learning organization. Learning isn’t easy and it takes hard work. Being arrogant takes less effort and it makes you feel better. You are correct when you say “it is about survival”. The good feelings won’t last for long. 

    • Steve, learning organizations are led by learning leaders. I know that you are a life-long learner, and I’m glad you’re a part of the leadership team of your organization.

  • Mark Jeffreess

    I have worked for a very insecure leader who had to have every idea or be in control of every project. I didn’t last long, and neither did he. He took that business down after I left

    • I worked for a man that used to say “I’m the 800 lb gorilla here and no one can upstage me.” Eventually even the 800 lb gorilla gets what’s coming to him. And so did he.

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