Thursday, September 15, 2011

Are You Teachable?

As a leader for many years, and one who has been responsible for filling both staff and volunteer positions, I’ve had to think long and hard about the qualities to look for in a candidate. As I’m interviewing people, one of the biggest things that I’m looking for is teachability.

Everyone, of course, must first pass the Character test – are there flaws in this person’s character that will eventually cause them to self-destruct? They also must pass the Competency test – if hired, does this person have the skills necessary to fill the role they are being asked to fill? Beyond those two obvious ones – and competency can be acquired – one that I believe strongly in is the Capacity for Change test. In other words, is this person teachable? Can they learn?

Let me explain why I have placed this criteria right near the top of my list. If I know anything about leadership it is this: good leaders are life-long learners. So here’s the question: how can we be sure that we are continuing to learn? What does it mean to be teachable?

1.       Being teachable is more about attitude than aptitude.

Many years ago the Carnegie Institute analyzed the records of ten thousand people and concluded that 15 percent of success is due to technical training. The other 85 percent is due to personality, and the primary personality trait identified by the research is attitude.

While having a lot of talent is helpful, I’d much rather have someone with a teachable spirit than a Mensa member who already thinks they know everything. The reason for this is obvious: no-one knows everything. A potent combination is the person with great talent who is also teachable.  

We see examples of this in virtually every major sport. Young phenoms arrive on the professional scene having dominated everyone in their age group throughout their life. But once they reach a certain level, they find themselves competing head-to-head with others with similar track records. Those who go on to have successful, even spectacular, careers, are those who continue to apply themselves to learning new skills and techniques, and who embrace the discipline necessary to take their game to the next level.

If this is a weakness for you, John Maxwell, in his book Developing The Leader Within You recommends two things to help change your attitude: First, say the right words, read the right books, listen to the right lessons, be with the right people, do the right things and pray the right prayer.

The second was to do number one every day, not just once or only when you feel like it, and watch your life change for the better.

2.       Being teachable is more about humility than ability.   

This may seem like the same thing at first blush, but it’s not. Humility is all about recognizing that we can learn from anyone; it’s the understanding that there is much that we don’t understand.

John Haggai, author the outstanding book Lead On wrote that: “The man who knows everything, learns nothing, and so it is a humble attitude that sets the stage for the knowledge and know-how that lead to success.” It’s the humble person who realizes that we learn more when we listen than when we talk.

When Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, a friend took him aside: “From here on out, you’re going to have lots of people around you. They’ll try to put up a wall around you and cut off any ideas but theirs. They’ll tell you what a great man you are, Harry. But you and I both know you ain’t.” There’s an important lesson here – we all have a lot to learn.

3.       Being teachable is more about the future than today.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems.” This speaks of potential. The person who is not teachable is placing a hard cap on their own potential. They are denying themselves a preferable future because, being unwilling to learn, they will be unable to change.

All of the good leaders that I know have a personal growth plan. They’ve actually sat down and looked at what they are doing to develop their leadership abilities in order to be better tomorrow than they are today. Benjamin Franklin said, “By improving yourself, the world is made better. Be not afraid of growing too slowly. Be afraid only of standing still. Forget your mistakes, but remember what they taught you.”

I believe that we have an obligation to our Creator to make the most of what He has given us. In the church it’s called stewardship. The question for all of us is this: what are we doing today to make us better tomorrow? Make a determination that you will begin today to make positive change. Here are a few suggestions:

Read. Many years ago I made a commitment to read from a wide variety of points of view in order to be relevant when I spoke. I read numerous newspapers and magazines as well as books ranging from biographies to novels, works of history, leadership, politics and theology. This helps to keep my mind active.

Listen. When I’m traveling by myself I’ll carry CD’s on Leadership from a wide variety of speakers. There are any number of downloadable podcasts out there as well that are well worth the time and effort. Also, make it a habit of listening to those around you. Cultivate an attitude that asks, “what can I learn from this person?”

Attend Conferences. I have made it a habit to attend at least one major leadership conference yearly in order to stay fresh. At this writing, I’m looking forward to The Leadership Summit in two weeks time. I find that the wide variety of speakers and ideas helps me to think creatively and challenges my assumptions.

Expose yourself to successful leaders. The internet is making our world ever smaller. We all can easily avail ourselves of the best resources from the best people. But also, as a pastor, I enjoy visiting great churches. When I’m on vacation, I try to arrange plans so that I can visit churches that are doing great things. It helps to broaden my mind and change my opinion of what’s possible.  

Related Articles:
Leadership Sites You Should Bookmark
Leadership Books I Recommend
Leadership Conferences
Where's A Good Mentor?  
Developing Great Habits 

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