Interview with leadership expert and author Patricia McLagan
Patricia McLagan Patricia McLagan is a global business executive, scholar and author. Founder and CEO of McLagan International, Inc., a strategy execution consulting firm, she is an expert on leadership and human behaviour.

Patricia’s greatest goal in life is to encourage an innovative world-wide mindset, both on a personal and professional level.

In our ever-changing world, she wants to help everyone reach their fullest potential. Patricia believes that only though a commitment to  lifelong learning can one achieve this.



Hi Patricia, thanks for stopping by our Expert Insights section. Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself for our readers?

I’m a lifelong learner and I want to help everyone I meet to take on the immense power they have to be all they can be – which, after all, is the goal of lifelong learning. In my life, I have focused directly on how we learn in various books and articles, like my just released, Unstoppable You: Adopt the New Learning 4.0 Mindset and Change Your Life. And I have worked with companies and universities to create environments that support people as they learn and change in this very challenging and fast changing world we live in today.  I grew up as interests in adult learning began to surge, and think I have contributed to the evolution of the corporate learning and development field.  My work went global in the 1990’s: for example, I spent most of that decade living and working in South Africa supporting a number of massive change initiatives there.  Imagine the learning processes that had to occur on both sides to support the transitions that occurred there at the time.

I’m always trying to push the envelope in my own life – for I believe that life is a true gift. I had some mobility problems as a child, and a sister with Downs Syndrome. For both of us, it was a bit more of a challenge to make our way in the world, but we both – I think – treasured and nurtured our abilities to grab on to all that life offers. For me, learning is life – and most of us can do a lot more with our capabilities in this important area that underlies success and fulfilment in work and in life.

You’re a former ASTD Board member, founder and CEO of McLagan International, a strategy implementation and change management consulting firm. How did this experience guide you towards writing Unstoppable You? Was there anyone or anything in particular that motivated you to write this book?

My interests in learning started with a focus on the learner. When I was in college, I taught study skills at the University of Minnesota, and an accelerated reading program for a commercial business. These led me to develop my own program on “reading and information handling skills” – a program that 3M, Honeywell, and a number of major corporations embraced. Because of my learner-focused perspective, I found myself also advising on program design – helping these companies – and others, including GE and NASA -- adopt a more learner-centered approach to their teaching. That was when I got involved in the professional societies like ASTD (now ATD, the Association for Talent Development) and the Instructional Systems Association. I joined their boards, led several studies that helped define the human resource development field. My work expanded to helping redesign entire business systems so that they were more participative and supportive of learning and change.

As time went on, I wrote several books that deal with how power is used at work, in change, in learning: On the Level: Performance Communication That Works (about shared responsibility communication at work – with both the employee and the manager fully and respectfully participating); Change Is Everybody’s Business (helping people take on their power in change rather than being victims of it; The Age of Participation: New Governance for the Workplace and the World (contrasting participative with more autocratic management and work practices and proposing how and why participation is a better choice.

Unstoppable You is yet another part of the story – all of us have massive power as learners. The time is right – perhaps with urgency – to use it.

Who is this book aimed at and how will it help them?

This book is for all adults who want to grow and develop for the rest of  their lives; who want to keep up at work and be prepared for the inevitable dislocations that will occur in the future. It’s for people who want to do a better job of dealing with today’s overloaded and often manipulative information world – to help them adopt the mindset an skills to rise above and use it. It’s for people who want to learn better in teams and for people who want to help others – including young people – to learn.

Learning, like breathing, is a core human process. But we can no longer take it for granted. Things are changing too fast around us. We know more about our brains and therefore how we can better use them. Advertisers, politicians, and others are investing more and more resources in controlling our learning for us.

All adults are equipped to be powerful learners. But how we think about and approach learning – these need significant upgrades so we can thrive today.

Problem solving is a popular subject for self-help books – what is unique about Unstoppable You?

Unstoppable You provides a new framework for learning.  Think of it as a fourth great version of our internal learning software.  We were born with Learning 1.0 – equipped to learn by trial and errors and imitation.  At school we upgraded to Learning 2.0 – adopting the models and norms of society and learning how to learn within boundaries others set. When we left school we evolved our own upgrade – Learning 3.0. We found ways to deal with adult challenges at work and in family and community life.

But the capabilities built into these learning versions are not enough for today’s fast paced, information overloaded, technological world where many skills and a lot of knowledge goes obsolete during our lifetimes.  We need what I call, Learning 4.0 – SMART learning that equips us to thrive in this fast-changing 21st century environment.

Unstoppable You presents Learning 4.0 as a framework and tools for thinking and acting in this new learning world we live in. It promotes 10 important qualities of 4.0 learners (like imagination and detecting bias and manipulation). It teaches seven practices for learning today. And it helps people change their mindsets and approaches so that they can learn better throughout their lives, in teams, and when they help others learn.

Can anyone learn to learn or are some people just too set in their ways to change?

Human beings are learning organisms.  We are learning all the time. Just look back at this day one year ago and ask yourself how you are different – at work, at home, with friends; what you know now that you didn’t know then.  Of course, we learn all the time.  It is called being alive.  However, we can learn better. And some of what we learn takes us backwards or reinforces fears and superstitions.  Almost everybody sets New Year’s resolutions or the equivalent, for example. But not many follow through on them.  They don’t know how to change habits or they imagine that their struggles to change are unique. They don’t have the self-confidence or they see learning through the eyes of learning 2.0 (as a school-like struggle) or 3.0 (as hit or miss problem solving).

I have worked with post-doctoral folks and illiterate people, with executives and floor sweepers,  and everyone in between. Learning doubts, uncertainties and challenges exist among them all. But they all want to live a meaningful life, even if this desire is hidden or feels beaten down or too much work.  I want this book to create a new sense of optimism and joy about the learning we do as our life and work progresses.  After all we started life with a curious attitude about the world. That seed is still there. I have seen it sprout in the most hopeless of situations. We need it – society needs it – to sprout again today.

But this book is not a remedial one. It is for everybody – for we all need to upgrade to Learning 4.0

What’s your most effective learning tool or technique - the one you rely on the most - and why?

I would say it is my ability to hear the call to learn whenever it occurs in the moment when I’m in a conversation, reading something, listening to the news, participating in a meeting. I am curious and always alert to the possibility that something interesting is about to appear.  It also helps that I am quite clear about what my purpose in life is – it’s to bring to new life – to be a catalyst for positive change.  Having this broad purpose alerts my subconscious to notice things that may be valuable toward achieving this purpose.  I try to be an open and curious lifelong learner, but also to have some broad focus running in the background.

Who inspires you and why?

I’m inspired by courageous and principled people who are willing to make tough decisions and then do what it takes to implement them. I have worked with a few top leaders who made decisions to transform their businesses or societies in ways that were good for multiple stakeholders – customers, the workforce, the future, as well as people with a financial stake. They were willing to learn about all aspects and impacts of important decisions and to balance short term pressures and long term consequences. I was privileged to work with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the past and see him as a role model of this behaviour.

You talk about being unstoppable – do you believe anyone can achieve their goals, or will we be happiest if we recognise, and learn to work within, our own limitations?

We have 90 billion neurons that are connected in 100 trillion ways in our brain-body system. We are by far the most complex organisms on the planet, and perhaps in the universe. As a human race, we have gotten to a point in our evolution where our technologies seem to be getting smarter in some ways than we are – which means we have even more capability at our disposal. They shouldn’t take us over, they should add to our capabilities. Our main limit is ourselves.

There is a lot of brain activity that interferes with our progress. For example, our brain is programmed to believe that a negative story is the norm rather than to believe statistics that prove it is not (statistics prove that there is less violence today than at any point in history, for example, yet many people feel we are headed downhill). We are easily duped by people who appeal to our fears and biases, so these can send our learning backward. Our previous mental programming causes us to accept or even to notice some things and not others. And in the face of complexities of life today, many of us retreat to groups of people on Facebook and in life who have the same biases we do – thus limiting our learning reach.

Sure, we have limitations. But none of us will – in the course of one lifetime – come close to reaching them. Think of people like Stephen Hawking or Helen Keller – people with what seem to be the most extreme limitations. Our limitations – unless we lose brain functioning – will always be beyond our reach.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Your ability to learn is one of the most amazing capabilities you possess. It is easy to take it for granted. Don’t. It is your ticket to living a full life – to keeping up at work, preparing for your future, moving beyond your limitations, reducing the anxiety of being in a fast-changing world, and being a savvy and discerning consumer of information. Learning opens the doors to adventure – to stretching yourself – and to taking others along with you as you follow your curiosity and pursue purpose in your life.

But this 21st Century learning requires Learning 4.0. Unstoppable You: Adopt the New Learning 4.0 Mindset and Change Your Life will help launch this important upgrade to this most important of human processes: your ability to learn.

Thanks Patricia - great talking to you!

Unstoppable You by Patricia McLagan is available from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.