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A CYA Culture versus A Learning Culture

“Gotcha!” That is the way it feels to work for some people.

Culture is a direct reflection of leadership. If you want to understand why the culture of an organization is the way it is, look at the leader. If there is a CYA (Cover Your A_ _) culture or a Learning Culture, look no further than the leader to figure out “Why?”

Truly great organizations are learning organizations. How the leader approaches issues within the organization will determine whether there is a culture of CYA or a culture of learning.

A CYA Culture

“Gotcha!” That is the way it feels to work for some people. These leaders spend their time looking for problems. Once they find a problem, the interrogation ensues. Because of the leader’s experience, they often have a solution. The leader walks away feeling like he or she has made an impact. The employee walks away discouraged and never wanting to go through that again.

Therefore, team members begin to protect themselves. They play it safe. They have excuses ready, just in case. They spend more time figuring out how another person, department, or something else out of their control can divert their leader’s attention away from them.

People don’t want to take responsibility, because the leader is more focused on playing “Gotcha,” and making themselves feel good about solving the problem, than they are about growing the people they are called to lead. When the leader is focused on finding problems instead of growing people, that team will never become what it can be.

A Learning Culture

Leadership in a learning culture is not focused on the problems, but on the people. In a learning culture, the leader focuses her attention on making sure people learn from their mistakes. The conversations after the fact are not cross examinations, they are all about getting better for the next time. Elite military units rely on After Action Reviews (AAR), to ensure the unit is always learning and getting better.

The AAR Ground Rules

  1. Have Thick Skin: Don’t be defensive. This is not personal. It is about getting better.

  2. Leave Your Rank Outside: The commander and the frontline soldier are on the same level in these meetings. Everyone is safe to speak without fear of retribution from the leader.

  3. Candor without Blame: Speak honestly about what happened without blaming things outside of your control.

  4. Show respect: Respect the others in the meeting even if your pride is hurt.

The AAR sessions are not an add-on to the mission. They are the last part of the mission. They are not optional, because the elite military units understand that they need to be a learning organization. They need to quickly analyze what went well, what didn’t and learn from both.

If you are interested in getting a PDF template that will help you run your own AAR, just email us at and we will forward one for you to use.

The difference between a CYA Culture or a Learning Culture is how the leadership approaches issues. Is the leader looking to assign blame, or is the leader looking to help people learn and grow? That is the foundation upon which they build either a CYA Culture or a Learning Culture.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • What are some questions a leader should ask to ensure people are learning and not playing CYA?

  • What happens to trust in a CYA Culture?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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