“Leadership is influence, the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead.” states Oswald Sanders on leadership.
What makes a leader maximize his or her potential? The usual emphasis on what makes a leader maximize their potential is on leadership style, a degree(s) from the right school, the leadership pedigree, overall character, natural ability, charisma, the right conditions or circumstances.
Often suggested a certain leadership style is required for leadership greatness. I have worked under many types of leaders, yet both in corporate America and local church leadership, has placed me primarily under autocratic leaders. Perhaps the autocratic leadership style is the best path to greatness. No shortage of resources suggesting it’s transformational leadership, servant leadership, or environmental leadership which will provide the path of maximizing potential.
Yet, I want to make a case for a critical leadership element which I hear so little. This is so critical that even if the others are present, I don’t believe a leader will ever experience the fullness of his or her leadership.
What guides a leader to the fullest potential is whether or not they are teachable.
Who leads the leader? Who influences the influencer? Often, what I see is no one does. What I have experienced as the primary reason no one leads certain leaders is they are unleadable. (Try saying that 3 times). Another way to say that though is that so many leaders are unteachable.
I spend the bulk of my time with 20-something leaders. While this is epidemic among younger leaders, the breakdown caused by maintaining an unteachable spirit crosses all generations.
Teachability is an asset. People who are teachable have the most impact in our culture, in their workplace, and in their families.
- “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” — John Wooden Hall of Fame Basketball Coach
- “In the Western tradition, we have focused on teaching as a skill and forgotten what Socrates knew: teaching is a gift, learning is a skill.” — Peter Drucker
- “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” -Proverbs 19:20
Being teachable requires admitting occasionally that you don’t know what’s best for your life as a leader. And doing so not in weakness but through strength with a desire to expand your leadership influence.
If you want to maximize the leadership influence you’ve been granted it requires other people investing in your life. Other people who’ve been there before, whether peeps or mentors. People who can spot your blind spots and help you to address them. I am astounded by how many people will make major life and leadership decisions with so little involvement from others.
As long as you carry an unteachable demeanor, you will always have a glass ceiling as a leader.
Common push back to whether or not you truly must be genuinely teachable is the plethora of evidence of “successful leaders” who aren’t teachable. Look at all the success I’ve achieved without being teachable? I believe you need to realize success isn’t an indicator of fulfilled potential. A measuring stick in life can’t simply be, “look what I’ve done.” Again that doesn’t speak to your potential.
What if the measuring stick isn’t based on what you already did or how you outperformed your peers, but instead measured against your full capacity available? Cultivating a teachable spirit unlocks leadership capacity in every person they were once unaware existed.
While I believe the heart of being unteachable is lacking humility, telling someone to start “being more humble” isn’t very helpful, nor is it possible. You don’t just start being more humble. It’s not a pep talk you give yourself or a Joel Osteen book you can read.
Can you learn from people? Peers, mentors, life’s failures, and an leadership success. Furthermore, it’s not just “can you?” learn from others but “are you?” learning from others.
Understand that leadership is 20% what you do in the moment and 80% what goes on before the moment (meeting, event, crisis, etc) ever occurs. And teachability is so critical because during that 80% is when we are shaped before our big moment occurs.
A simple criteria to know if you’re unteachable: If no one is coaching or mentoring you, highly likely you are unteachable. If you aren’t making the time, or no one has approached to poor into you, there is a good chance you are unteachable. Who are you meeting with regularly that is pouring into you? Who in your life are you listening to develop as a leader?
What to look for in leadership mentors or coaches? Recognize not every leader can be a coach. And not every coach will be right for you but here are 4 simple criteria to identify in a person.
- Identify a person who wants you to be the best you. This is epidemic. Coaches and mentors with influence trying to help you fit in their shoes and follow in their footsteps. Wonderful if there is shared unity and harmony in your path together, but if their focus isn’t helping your develop your capacity as the type of leader you are, probably time to move on.
- Identify a person who you can be vulnerable with. Leadership is lonely. Someone you can drop your guard down around, where risk is minimized. Which often makes it difficult for that person to be within your current organization, church, business, etc.
- Identify a person who will make the time for you. This needs to be a consistent time both of you prioritize.
- Identify a person who can provide the necessary structure that works for you. Very important you are on the same page. Stated goals and a leadership development plan for your life needs to be clear.
Podcasts, blogs, books, classes, web leadership tools and surveys are all swell, but nothing will replace the effectiveness of you being a teachable leader.