The Humble Posture of Learning

Posted on January 8, 2013


As I write, the news is reporting Lance Armstrong is contemplating admitting using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether or not Armstrong admits failure, and regardless of why he may finally confess to his wrong, many will welcome the admission of guilt. Owning up to our failures, mistakes and gross lies can be freeing. It can also be effective in restoring broken relationships.

Effective leaders know the value of saying those three difficult words: “I was wrong.”  Leaders gain respect by acknowledging failure, miscalculations and blunders. However, when leaders refuse to admit error they feed distrust, resentment and anger. But it’s not just the ability to admit wrong that is sorely needed by today’s leader. Great leaders—leaders who inspire and motivate and foster an environment of productivity—are leaders who engage other members of the team in order to learn from them.  Just as nauseating as a manager who cannot admit wrong, is the manager who rarely leads from a humble posture of learning from others on their team.

Just as nauseating as a manager who cannot admit wrong, is the manager who rarely leads from a humble posture of learning from others on their team.

Some leaders take great effort to learn from today’s leading business authors. They will read the latest best sellers, attend the most popular seminars and gather with well established community leaders. However, great leaders will also stop and glean from the insights of the new college grad just hired in accounting. Great leaders crave the insights provided by those of differing ideologies. They want to engage the alternative minds. No one is too beneath them to be their teacher.

The best teachers don't always have a seat at the table.

The best teachers don’t always have a seat at the table.

Average leaders can fail to excel when they allow pride to block their path of learning. The egotistical and arrogant leader rarely acknowledges learning from other team members, especially someone with a lesser title or further down the org chart vertical. This egotist may say something like, “I already knew that.” Or, they may simply maintain an expressionless face, making sure not to expose any hint they just became aware of something they did not know.

I worked with a leader who was a master at masking what he learned from others. Repeatedly, I would sit in a meeting with him where we would hear fresh ideas. He would find the information valuable, but he would never let it be known that he had just heard something he needed to know. It would be humiliating for him to reveal someone had educated him. Therefore, he would sit in the meeting as if nothing significant had been offered. Yet, days later it would be revealed he had indeed gained fresh insight from their earlier discussion; either he would repeat the idea as his own or implement the idea without giving credit to whoever had shared it. His failure to lead from a humble posture of humility diminished his effectiveness in leading the team.

 Great leaders engage in learning and they are not too proud to acknowledge anyone as their teacher.


Join me each day this week as we continue with Great Leaders L – E – A – R – N

 L:  LISTEN – Great leaders LISTEN to the opinions of others.

E:  ENGAGE – Great leaders ENGAGE in learning