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Successful leaders are required to learn, unlearn and relearn, faster than the rate of change

by | May 15, 2020 | Coronavirus Lockdown, People, Strategy | 0 comments

How did people plan a dinner party with friends twenty years ago? And how do they do it today? Isn’t it amazing that after such a short amount of time, so much has changed? Even the way one reads and writes has been relearnt. Twenty years ago, “lol” and “Yolo” were spelling errors, yet today they are useful texting abbreviations used daily to communicate with friends and colleagues. Learning new things, however, is not just for the youth. In fact, most in-demand jobs today didn’t even exist a decade ago (Warrell, 2014). And the truth is, if folks don’t keep with the times, they might just find themselves without one.

In 21st century organisations, how employees work and where they work from, changes the way the modern-day workforce is lead and managed (Warrell, 2014). This dominant logic might prove difficult for some modern-day leaders, but it is imperative that they adapt to the volatile world and handle challenges with maturity to avoid being derailed (Nayar, 2009). I see this often in companies today, where leaders are stuck in their dominant logic and resist unlearning, learning and relearning to keep abreast with changes in the environment and deliver on what their customers perceive as valuable (NSCA, 2019).

Ice-hockey is a sport I have played for over 20 years and I recently had the privilege of captaining the Durban Rays 1st division men’s team for 2 consecutive years. Every time I stepped onto the ice, I knew that the success of my team and ultimately me as a leader was based on my adaptability to change. In a sport so fast and ever-changing, as a leader I was not only responsible for my role as a player in the centre position but had to continuously analyse my surrounding environment, finding opportunities to lead my team to victory. Previously successful plays, or drills we ran countlessly during training, oftentimes no longer applied in the current situation. Learning and leveraging the individual talents of my players, unlearning previous mistakes made during the game and relearning to adapt to the current environment is what was required to win.

Leaders need to demonstrate optimism and enthusiasm and instil the same within their teams, ensuring courage and triumph (Nayar, 2009). It is not just about acquiring knowledge but learning agility. Being able to unlearn old rules and quickly learning and relearning new ones (Warrell, 2014). Yes, leaders need training and a certain level of intelligence, but success is only achievable to those who believe in the future they wish to create for tomorrow, can do it with confidence, practice good time management and which are able to keep their organisation calm and supported throughout the change process.  


Nayar, V. (2009, February 20). A Time for Flexible, Positive Leaders. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://bg.hbr.org/2009/02/learn-unlearn-and-relearn

NSCA. (2019, May 21). Learn, Unlearn, Relearn: Becoming Change-Ready. Retrieved from NSCA: https://www.nsca.org/learn-unlearn-relearn-becoming-change-ready/

Warrell, M. (2014, February 3). Learn, Unlearn And Relearn: How To Stay Current And Get Ahead. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2014/02/03/learn-unlearn-and-relearn/#2be4701e676f

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