I grew up in a town in southern Nigeria and made plans to go visit with my family over the Sallah holidays. Last week, as I talked about my impending trip home, one of my younger colleagues asked me about the bats. Bats? I looked at him a little confused and stunned. Then he said to me that there were bats around the city centre where the traditional ruler’s palace was located. Okay, there was a defensive part of me that was looking to challenge him and rebut what he said, after all I grew up there and felt I knew the town. But I shut up and admitted that I didn’t know about the bats and listened as he spoke about having spent his mandatory National Youth Service year there and how that he certainly saw the bats on more than one occasion and had learnt that they had to do with the location of the palace. Not too long after, whilst this conversation was yet ongoing, my boss walked in and confirmed it. Turns out that everyone but me knew about the preponderance of bats in that part of the town and not at night. For some reason, I had never noticed. It matters not that my parents and grandparents live there or that I spent a large portion of my growing up years there, I had been schooled afresh by an unlikely someone who just knew more than I did. Rationalizing though, he shouldn’t have known more about the town than I did, think about it, one year of youth service versus several years and family ties? Now, was I glad that I listened?
And then, it hit me. How many times do we miss out on the beauty of life because we are simply not teachable? Does our ego get in the way or do we shut our minds up from learning from people whom we consider ourselves better experienced than? We are typically more amenable to receiving teaching from older, more experienced people but I have seen people carry on with this superiority chip on their shoulders, shutting up others whom they feel they have more experience than. In my view, ‘teachability’ is truly more about attitude than it is about mental capacity or competence. According to John Maxwell, it is the desire to listen, learn, and apply. It is the hunger to discover and grow. It is the willingness to learn, unlearn, and relearn. I am reminded that to learn is to grow, so if we remain teachable, we are better able to make an impact. Infact, we are simply better people if we keep expecting and striving to learn. For me, growing is a priority! I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t growing, learning, and sharing. I believe it is part of my destiny. I love hearing and learning something NEW
There is an old Taoist story about a student who comes to a master and asks him to teach him. The master invites the student to sit with him and have tea. While they are sitting the master starts to converse with the eager young student. But every time the master starts to explain a point the student would interrupt him and say, “Oh I know that, I do this when that happens, or I don’t have that problem because…” Soon the master stopped talking and picked up the teapot. He began pouring tea into the students cup, as the cup filled he continued pouring until the cup overflowed and spilled out. The student shouted stop! It is enough! My cup is full! With that the old master smiled and replied, yes your cup is full, therefore I can teach you nothing until you empty your cup.
Now, I am sure you get my point from the story. The student had an un-teachable attitude. Instead of listening to the master he wanted to show how much he already knew. He was not open to learning anything new that he believed he had already learned. His cup of knowledge was full. He had to empty that cup before he could learn from the new master. However, emptying your cup does not mean you must give up all you have learned or forget all that you know. To empty your cup simply means to adapt a teachable attitude, the ability to temporarily put what you know about something out of your mind and listen to a new explanation, or share new insight. To be honest, ‘If I learn compassion, it matters not if the instruction comes from a pastor, a colleague, a life coach, an invalid parent, a terminally ill relative, my spouse or a six year old; what matters is that the learning takes place. Too many have missed vital life lessons focusing too intently on the teacher. Humility and true wisdom enables one to learn something from everyone. Humility shows a great strength of character, humility is not weak, pride is weak! Pride is walking around with your cup full and showing everyone that it is full! Pride is definitely the main cause of the un-teachable attitude.
I believe that teachability is the attitude that sets true leaders apart. When we stay teachable, we get better and sound better.Some of us would have missed out on Naaman’s type of life changing miracle because we would never have given the servant girl a chance. It is more about the message than it is about the messenger and some of us need to learn to pay attention to the message. Infact, I had to ask myself a question. If I was Naaman’s wife, would my maid feel comfortable enough to care about helping to solve my problem? Would she have audience to share her opinion? (Now, I know there are some oversabi maids, so that’s not the point, the point is how receptive we are to others and how teachable we truly are). Some weeks ago, I listened to my 12 year old cousin as we spoke about relationships and the ‘Friend Zone’ and she made a whole lot of sense for her age. I gained a lot for just opening my mind to listen, imagine if I shut her up. I believe tat true leaders are not threatened by new knowledge. Bringing it home now, are you that boss at work that shuts his/her subordinates up when they bring up new ideas simply because they are not familiar? Or are you just stuck in the old because you have refused to learn new things? It’s very sad because your ‘unteachability’ affects a lot more people than yourself. Everyone in your sphere of influence gains when you stay teachable and vice versa.
A friend said to me yesterday, ‘we are blessed by the depth of the people around us…’ and I agree. I truly wish we would stop being so defensive about learning and just be a more teachable bunch. God would rather have us be clay in the hands of the potter, pliable and moldable, which speaks to our teach ability. Every day, on my journey, I find the most amazing inspiration in the most unlikely places, in the lives and nuances of the amazing people on my Twitter TL, in the comments made by the cleaning lady as I ask her how she’s doing and wait to hear her response. At work, I receive tutelage from my direct reports and other subordinates who find a way or make one to get their tasks done. In different ways, they all teach me and as I learn, I grow. I hear ego and the flesh saying ‘me, me, and me’ when we say, ‘what could she/ he know?’ or when we act that way.
Truly, God cannot work with a man who is not teachable and one is who teachable is humble, able to shut down his or her ego and tell his or her feelings to shut up. Paul was the last of the apostles, yet when he came and saw Peter and other Christian leaders in Antioch debating about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised or observe the dietary laws and circumcision Paul didn’t agree with Peter. (Acts 15, Galatians2) Eventually, it was agreed not to burden Gentiles with unnecessary laws. Imagine if that was you or me today, would we not say, who is Paul to correct us? After we walked with Jesus for 3 years and a half years? He wasn’t there when we broke bread, he wasn’t there when Jesus was taken into heaven, he wasn’t even there at the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit filled the 120. But Peter, James and the other leaders were teachable enough to pay attention. We receive the word by revelation, why would we throw away deep and valid revelation simple because we do not recognize the person sharing?
Life is a school with so many faculties, you may have a Ph.D in one area and be a novice in another and someone else may just have all the answers you seek in the area of your lack. There is a reason for instance that doctors hold clinical meetings with everyone from the consultant to the lowly medical officer in attendance. Everyone’s view is important. My point is simple, let go of that ego, be teachable. You’ll be amazed how much easier life becomes when you allow yourself the privilege of learning from others actively and passively. So, you don’t make your soup that way, well, here is an opportunity to learn another method of cooking it. If you let go of the ego, you just keep learning every day and when you go to bed, you are a better person than when you woke up.
A teachable attitude is key to living carefully; applying our hearts to wisdom and being able to make the most of every opportunity and understanding the Lord’s will and plan for our lives. I am praying for grace to be more teachable.
John Maxwell developed a series of questions to determine if you are really open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I call it the ‘Teachability Grid’. Here goes:
1. Am I open to other people’s ideas?
2. Do I listen more than I talk?
3. Am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?
4. Do I readily admit when I am wrong?
5. Do I observe before acting on a situation?
6. Do I ask questions?
7. Am I willing to ask a question that will expose my ignorance?
8. Am I open to doing things in a way I haven’t done before?
9. Am I willing to ask for directions?
10. Do I act defensive when criticized, or do I listen openly for truth?
According to John Maxwell, if you answered no to one or more of these questions, then like me, you have room to grow in the area of teachability. You need to soften your attitude, learn humility, and remember the words of John Wooden: “Everything we know we learned from someone else!”