Submission, inquiry, and service as learner expectations

August 1, 2017

Without tying into a spiritual doctrine, we can crop a poetic segment of text from Bhagavad Gita that portrays a clear set of learner expectations leaders can adopt. This establishes three conditions to honor when taking on learning tasks. The text goes:


Learn this

        by humble submission,

        by thorough inquiry,

        and by serving.

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Organized groups of people depend on their individuals improving upon complete bodies of skills, knowledge, relationships and work. Organized groups of people thrive when its individuals choose to learn on purpose to improve upon their bodies of skill, knowledge, relationships, and work. Choose a profession at random and you will find women and men who have been encouraged in some way to be lifelong learners; individuals who, without prompting and in perpetuity, seek or create situations in which to learn. An organization with a workhorse force formed solely of these people is picturesque and demonstrates a touchstone. More realistically though, leaders will need to establish for its force when and how its members will go about learning.


Consider this familiar anecdote. A leadership team provides an installment of professional development to teach some principle, skill, or procedure. Then the leadership team says,


"Go forth all ye people. Go ye forth and implement."


Move along the timeline and find that woe, there is no evidence worth remark that the endeavor was effective. Was the pd installment even installed?


Predictably, the professional development recipients chime in that the endeavor itself was fine, but that it lacked enough (if any) ongoing support to be fully and faithfully implemented. This response can be a cop-out; an easy response given in lieu of an extraordinary effort. And sometimes it is. However, this excuse can also be a suggestion in complaint's clothing. And sometimes it is.


In either case, I suggest that an organization that chooses to include professional development within its human resource model is bound by duty to bear the weight of doing what can be done to ensure its undertakings work excellently. An outfit that demands, at any capacity, that its people learn bears the burden of setting structures in place that ensure learning happens and gets used. What weight can professional development recipients be expected to bear?


Coaches, managers, teachers, and trainers have not seen the day where their charges are comprised solely of people that adhere to the highest ideals -- where their teams, sales forces, and classrooms feature people who, without exception, pay respect to a personal call to structure for themselves perpetual exercises in growth and learning. More reasonably, an organization can and should expect that under the leadership, it is each person's duty to to go about the prescribed learning and to abide by the structures set forth and exemplified by the leadership. It is each person's duty to make choices believed in earnest to contribute to an endeavor that works excellently.

When anecdotes indicate that professional development recipients long for more support the suggestion is that the organization and its leadership are being asked to bear more weight, to provide material assistance that equips each individual to learn and demonstrate what is demanded. Among the support structures that learners within a teaching project need established are indicators outlining how players, trainees, interns, students, et al. will behave.


Establishing clear expectations is a standard practice of teaching that leaders employ to up the game of themselves as well as those being led. A leader can opt either to create or to find means of material assistance that frame and govern learner behavior. Here I offer something found; a product of ancient wisdom that establishes three key conditions for learners to honor when taking on personal or professional development tasks. The conditions are humble submission, thorough inquiry, and by service. In exchanges meant for gaining knowledge or skill, whether by being taught, by experience, or by study, the learner in the dynamic is expected to:

  1. be deferential, respectful -- as opposed to arrogant or overbearing -- to the teacher, experience, and/or study yielding to these as the superior forces in the exchange

  2. take pains to carefully and completely ask for information

  3. perform duties or services for other people or organizations.

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