Roadblocks en route to a teachable leader

A master martial artist asked Bruce Lee to teach him everything he knew about martial arts. Bruce held up two cups, both filled with liquid. “The first cup,” Bruce said, “represents all your knowledge about martial arts. The second cup represents all my knowledge about martial arts. If you want to fill your cup with my knowledge, you must first empty your cup of your knowledge.” And this is, in part, the secret to being a teachable leader. 
Before I identify the seven characteristics of teachable leaders, I’d first like to explore the roadblocks that prevent it. Why is it that we resist being teachable and what are the consequences? In order to be teachable, we have to know what attitudes, actions or behaviors keep us from being teachable. I’ve identified six for your consideration.
You don’t place value on personal growth
If you don’t value personal growth you will not invest in it. In other words, you are content with the amount of knowledge and skill that you have believing that it will carry you. You will never rise to the challenge of leading others if you first don’t rise to the challenge of leading and growing yourself. Leaders lead by example and if you are not teachable then don’t expect it from your people.
You become defensive
In teachable moments that you have – especially with mentors and those with more knowledge and experience, one sure sign of not being teachable is that you become defensive. And what happens plays out like this: you defend yourself rather than listen; you justify your actions and behaviors rather than correct them and you put up walls. So long as you are defensive and not teachable, you forfeit the opportunity for a teachable moment and to be a better leader.
You don’t listen
A big part of being teachable as a leader is found in listening. The greatest quality of being teachable is not found in what you think you need to say but in what you need to hear. Part of our defense mechanism is that we tend to not listen and we interrupt (especially when we are hearing unpleasant truths) when the most beneficial thing we can do is to be quiet and listen. Being teachable is a humbling process that requires us all to realize that learning never ends and that sometimes the most prudent thing to do is stop talking and listen.
You deflect and compare yourself to others
Another sign of not being a teachable leader is that you deflect and compare yourself to others. The measure of your leadership is not found in how you stack up and compare to the person next to you. You never elevate yourself as a leader – ever – by putting someone else down. You are responsible for your own growth and development and it doesn’t happen by propping yourself up by putting others down.
You don’t seek out wise counsel
In my years in leadership, there’s one undeniable truth that I confront on a daily basis and it’s this – there is always something to learn from someone else. The more we learn the more we realize how much we don’t know and in order to improve we have to intentionally seek out wise counsel. 
You’re stuck and have grown as much as you can
This perhaps is the saddest indication of all that you are not a teachable leader. You are living under a self-imposed lid on your potential. And until you are willing to change, you will never reach it. So long as you are not teachable you’ve grown as much as you ever will. 
Final Thoughts
Being a teachable leader is one of the greatest compliments to your leadership. But arrogance and pride can be your demise if you’re unwilling to learn. In Part Two, I will share seven characteristics of teachable leaders.  
©2022 Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson is a certified leadership speaker, trainer, and coach. Learn more at

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