Leaders worth their salt are life-long-learners; ready and eager to learn from anyone at any time on any topic. The person who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks has never met a hungry dog. Dan Rockwell shares some insightful ideas on why old dogs don’t learn new tricks.

Originally posted by Dan Rockwell


You can’t teach old dogs new tricks because unlearning is like breaking concrete with a toothpick.

 “The chief object of education is not to learn things but to unlearn things.” G.K. Chesterton

We want change, but failure to unlearn keeps us the same.

Action-oriented leaders unlearn slowly. The challenge after doing something that works is staying open.  It’s easier to keep doing the same thing than to embrace new ways of thinking.

The great challenge of unlearning is letting go of old ways of thinking about ourselves, others, and the way things get done.

Old dogs:

  1. Defend rather than engage in conversation.
  2. Blame as a defense against taking responsibility.
  3. Find fault rather than seek solutions.
  4. Trust in authority rather than relationship.
  5. Believe that accountability concerns power to punish rather than shared responsibilities.

You can’t learn if you don’t unlearn.

Challenges of unlearning:

Unlearning is listening to things that conflict with current ways of thinking.

  1. Unlearning is stopping.
  2. Unlearning is letting go.
  3. Unlearning is moving away from previous learning.
  4. Unlearning takes humility.

The danger of average ideas is they work.

You’re getting things done with current methods. The challenge of unlearning and relearning is trying on untested behaviors.

Topics for unlearning and relearning:

  1. Focus on problem-solving rather than building a preferred future. It takes more courage to work to create something new than to fix something old.
  2. Tell less. Ask more. Curiosity is today’s untapped leadership skill.
  3. Ignite, monitor, and manage energy, more than processes and procedures.
  4. Focus on extroverts minimizes the potential of introverts.
  5. You are responsible for the world you live in, not others.
  6. Discussing what we expect from each other rather than demanding.
  7. Turning toward awkward conversations rather than away.

Unlearn and relearning are the path to growth and fulfillment.

Where might leaders need to engage in unlearning?

What have you unlearned and relearned?