To Keep Leading, Keep Learning
Value your listening and reading time at
roughly ten times your talking time. This will assure
you that you are on a course of continuous
learning and self-improvement.
—Gerald McGinnis, President and CEO of Kespironics, Inc.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
—John Wooden, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
Success Disguised as a Tramp
If you see the image of a little man sporting a tiny moustache, carrying a cane, and wearing baggy pants, big, clumsy shoes, and a derby hat, you know immediately that it's Charlie Chaplin. Just about everyone recognizes him. In the 1910s and 1920s, he was the most famous and recognizable person on the planet. If we looked at today's celebrities, the only person even in the same category as Chaplin in popularity would be Michael Jordan. And to measure who is the bigger star, we would have to wait another seventy-five years to find out how well everyone remembers Michael.
When Chaplin was born, nobody would have predicted great fame for him. Born into poverty as the son of English music hall performers, he found himself on the street as a small child when his mother was institutionalized. After years in workhouses and orphanages, he began working on the stage to support himself. By age seventeen, he was a veteran performer. In 1914, while in his mid-twenties, he worked for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios in Hollywood making $150 a week. During that first year in the movie business, he made thirty-five films working as an actor, writer, and director. Everyone recognized his talent immediately, and his popularity grew. A year later, he earned $1,250 a week. Then in 1918, he did something unheard of. He signed the entertainment industry's first $1 million contract. He was rich; he was famous; and he was the most powerful filmmaker in the world—at the ripe old age of twenty-nine.
Chaplin was successful because he had great talent and incredible drive. But those traits were fueled by teachability. He continually strived to grow, learn, and perfect his craft. Even when he was the most popular and highest paid performer in the world, he wasn't content with the status quo.
Chaplin explained his desire to improve to an interviewer:
When I am watching one of my pictures presented to an audience, I always pay close attention to what they don't laugh at. If, for example, several audiences do not laugh at a stunt I meant to be funny, I at once begin to tear that trick to pieces and try to discover what was wrong in the idea or in the execution of it. If I hear a slight ripple at something I had not expected to be funny, I ask myself why that particular thing got a laugh.
That desire to grow made him successful economically, and it brought a high level of excellence to everything he did. In those early days, Chaplin's work was hailed as marvelous entertainment. As time went by, he was recognized as a comic genius. Today many of his movies are considered masterpieces, and he is appreciated as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Screenwriter and film critic James Agee wrote, "The finest pantomime, the deepest emotion, the richest and most poignant poetry were in Chaplin's work."
If Chaplin had replaced his teachability with arrogant self-satisfaction when he became successful, his name would be right up there along with Ford Sterling or Ben Turpin, stars of silent films who are all but forgotten today. But Chaplin kept growing and learning as an actor, director, and eventually film executive. When he learned from experience that filmmakers were at the mercy of studios and distributors, he started his own organization, United Artists, along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D. W. Griffith. The film company is still in business today.
Fleshing It Out
Leaders face the danger of contentment with the status quo. After all, if a leader already possesses influence and has achieved a level of respect, why should he keep growing? The answer is simple:
Your growth determines who you are.
Who you are determines who you attract.
Who you attract determines the success of your organization.
If you want to grow your organization, you have to remain teachable.
Allow me to give you five guidelines to help you cultivate and maintain a teachable attitude:
1. Cure Your Destination Disease
Ironically, lack of teachability is often rooted in achievement. Some people mistakenly believe that if they can accomplish a particular goal, they no longer have to grow. It can happen with almost anything: earning a degree, reaching a desired position, receiving a particular award, or achieving a financial goal.
But effective leaders cannot afford to think that way. The day they stop growing is the day they forfeit their potential—and the potential of the organization. Remember the words of Ray Kroc: "As long as you're green, you're growing. As soon as you're ripe, you start to rot."
2. Overcome Your Success
Another irony of teachability is that success often hinders it. Effective leaders know that what got them there doesn't keep them there. If you have been successful in the past, beware. And consider this: if what you did yesterday still looks big to you, you haven't done much today.
3. Swear Off Shortcuts
My friend Nancy Dornan says, "The longest distance between two points is a shortcut." That's really true. For everything of value in life, you pay a price. As you desire to grow in a particular area, figure out what it will really take, including the price, and then determine to pay it.
4. Trade In Your Pride
Teachability requires us to admit we don't know everything, and that can make us look bad. In addition, if we keep learning, we must also keep making mistakes. But as writer and expert craftsman Elbert Hubbard said, "The greatest mistake one can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one." You cannot be prideful and teachable at the same time.
Emerson wrote, "For everything you gain, you lose something." To gain growth, give up your pride.
5. Never Pay Twice for the Same Mistake
Teddy Roosevelt asserted, "He who makes no mistakes, makes no progress." That's true. But the leader who keeps making the same mistakes also makes no progress. As a teachable leader, you will make mistakes. Forget them, but always remember what they taught you. If you don't, you will pay for them more than once.
Reflecting on It
When I was a kid growing up in rural Ohio, I saw this sign in a feed store: "If you don't like the crop you are reaping, check the seed you are sowing." Though the sign was an ad for seeds, it contained a wonderful principle.
What kind of crop are you reaping? Do your life and leadership seem to be getting better day after day, month after month, year after year? Or are you constantly fighting just to hold your ground? If you're not where you hoped you would be by this time in your life, your problem may be lack of teachability. When was the last time you did something for the first time? When was the last time you made yourself vulnerable by diving into something for which you weren't the expert? Observe your attitude toward growing and learning during the next several days or weeks to see where you stand.
Bringing It Home
To improve your teachability, do the following:
Observe how you react to mistakes. Do you admit your mistakes? Do you apologize when appropriate? Or are you defensive? Observe yourself. And ask a trusted friend's opinion. If you react badly—or you make no mistakes at all— you need to work on your teachability.
Try something new. Go out of your way today to do something different that will stretch you mentally, emotionally, or physically. Challenges change us for the better. If you really want to start growing, make new challenges part of your daily activities.
Learn in your area of strength. Read six to twelve books a year on leadership or your field of specialization. Continuing to learn in an area where you are already an expert prevents you from becoming jaded and unreachable.
After winning his third world championship, bull rider Tuff Hedeman didn't have a big celebration. He moved on to Denver to start the new season—and the whole process over again. His comment: "The bull won't care what I did last week." Whether you're an untested rookie or a successful veteran, if you want to be a champion tomorrow, be teachable today.
A SERVANT OF THE LORD MUST ALWAYS BE LEARNING; EVERYONE CAN CONTINUE TO LEARN ALL THROUGH THEIR LIFE. LEARNING NEVER MAKES LIFE BORING, IT ADDS SPICE TO LIFE. GET IN THE MIND-SET OF ALWAYS WANTING TO LEARN. BOOKS ARE A GREAT WAY TO LEARN. OF COURSE YOUR OVERALL INTERESTS WILL DETERMINE WHAT YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT. I REGULARLY GO TO A LARGE BOOK STORE NEAR TO WHERE I LIVE, AND WALK AROUND LOOKING AT THE BOOKS UNDER SUBJECTS I’M INTERESTED IN; THE NEW ONES JUST PUBLISHED; THE BOOKS ON “SALE” ETC. LIFE TO ME WOULD BE DULL IF I EVER STOPPED WANTING TO LEARN AND BE INFORMED ABOUT THIS OR THAT.
I HAVE ALSO EXPERIENCED IN MY 75 YEARS TO DATE [MARCH 2018] THE SAD HAPPENING TO “CHURCHES” THAT DO NOT CONTINUE TO GROW IN GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE. I WAS A PART OF ONE CHURCH DECADES AGO THAT GREW IN SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE EACH YEAR. THERE WOULD BE A MINISTER CONFERENCE TWICE A YEAR; EVERY MINISTER WAS FREE TO BRING UP STUDIES THAT MAY OR MAY NOT REQUIRE A RE-THINKING OF THIS OR THAT TEACHING. THEN THAT STOPPED; THE FOUNDER OF THIS CHURCH GOT OLD AND VAIN AND WANTED TO RULE AS “A CLOSED MINDED CULT TYPE LEADER.” MANY THOUSANDS LEFT TO MOVE ON INTO GROWTH. THOUSANDS STAYED ON WITHOUT GROWTH. FINALLY THE FOUNDER DIED. HIS CHURCH SPLIT; THOUSANDS WENT BACKWARDS INTO FALSE THEOLOGY; THOUSANDS MOVED AWAY FROM THOSE THOUSANDS, BUT HAVE STUCK TO THE FOUNDERS TEACHINGS AND HAVE NEVER GROWN IN KNOWLEDGE. THEY HAVE BECOME THE LAODICEAN CHURCH IN ATTITUDE OF MIND, MENTIONED IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION, CONCERNING THE SEVEN CHURCHES IN THE OPENING CHAPTERS.
A MINISTER, A CHURCH, MUST BE TEACHABLE ALL THE TIME. EVERY INDIVIDUAL MUST BE TEACHABLE ALL THEIR LIFE. A CHRISTIAN CAN NEVER BE COMPLACENT; A TEACHABLE ATTITUDE, A GROWING IN GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE MUST REMAIN IN AN INDIVIDUAL AND CHURCH FOREVER; THE MOMENT IT IS NOT THERE, THAT INDIVIDUAL AND/OR CHURCH STARTS TO DIE; THE SAP OF LIFE STOPS RUNNING AND LIKE A TREE, SPIRITUAL DEATH EVENTUALLY IS THE RESULT.
ALWAYS LOVE BEING TAUGHT - BEING TEACHABLE!