The Learning Organization

Dr. Anthony W. Adams

There is an old expression, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”  Yet, how many times does this happen.  Some leaders will create a culture that encourages people to look away, stay quiet, and not point out the glaring mistake or impending problem that is just ahead.  How do they create this culture?  They do this by shooting the messenger.  They silence the one daring enough to point out the impending doom.  However, successful leaders create a learning organization.  They not only tolerate hearing about possible or even probable problems but encourage it.  In this article I want to deal with the learning organization.

Jeremiah’s Counsel

There is an illustration of what I am talking about found in the book of Jeremiah.  The Lord spoke to Jeremiah and told him to go to the Potter’s House.  There he saw the potter working with clay on a fashioning wheel.  The Lord pointed out that He had the right to do what He wanted with the clay, or if you will with Israel.  For example, if God had decided to destroy a nation due to their wickedness, but that nation repented, He had the right to change His plans, and to forgive and bless that nation instead.  Also, if a nation was supposed to be blessed but that nation turned to evil, again, God said He had the right to change His plans and to destroy that nation.  The Lord then told Jeremiah to proclaim to the people that they were set for destruction and they needed to repent.

However, upon hearing the words of Jeremiah, “They said, ‘Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not cease, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says’” (Jeremiah 18:18, NIV).  Jeremiah told the people they were in danger because they were living in sin.  They’re response, however, was to attack the one man with enough courage and concern to tell them the truth. 

Yes Men

This verse also indicates another element.  There will be those in your organization that will say what the leader longs to hear, regardless if their statements are true or not.  This is what Paul was saying in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (NIV).  The Greek word for itching ears is κνηθόμενοι meaning to tickle the ears or to have a desire to hear something pleasant.  This is saying that there are people that will figure out what the leader wants to hear, and will make sure that is what they say, regardless of its veracity. 

The reason these men decided to plot and start a campaign against Jeremiah was because if the people believed Jeremiah’s predictions, the authority of the spiritual leaders would be nullified.  Therefore, in their estimation, Jeremiah had to be silenced.  The point is, it is not always the leader that shoots the messenger, sometimes the arrows fly from the bow of those within the organization that fear their position and standing is being threatened.

The Learning Organization

There is another saying in business, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  God will often reveal to the leader certain truths about the organization.  I am not talking about God speaking out of a burning bush, although I am convinced that He could if He wanted to, but rather, bringing certain things to light.  For example, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law revealed that the way he was leading the people of Israel would eventually destroy Moses and the people (Exodus 18:17-22).  He could have dismissed this and even derided Jethro, but instead Moses listened.  Because of Moses’ willingness to listen, they reorganized, and the organization prospered.  In other words, they learned from their mistakes.  If we want to make a difference, if we really want to have an impact on our ministry, community, family, or business, Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Instead, create a learning organization.