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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #55: The Teachable Leader – Engagement on Steroids

September 17, 2019
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #55: The Teachable Leader – Engagement on Steroids

Highly engaged teams have very teachable leaders. Being open to feedback is a key trait of good leadership and a skill that can be learned! In Episode #55 of John Maxwell’s Executive Leadership Podcast, we challenge you to ask your team 10 questions about your leadership to learn whether or not you are a “teachable leader.”

To cultivate leadership development on your team, consider bringing a 5 Levels of Leadership Workshop to your organization this year.

Read Transcript Below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach. And I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of the John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. As we kick off today’s episode, one thing I want to bring to your attention as we talk a lot about the 5 Levels of Leadership, is that we do a couple of public workshops in different cities throughout the year. In October, we’ll be doing a 5 Levels of Leadership workshop in Atlanta as well as in Dallas, and we would love to have you join us for those public workshops, where we will spend the entire day on the 5 Levels of Leadership. If you’re interested, please go to, and all of the information will be right there for you. If you just want to learn more about the 5 Levels methodology, or maybe even bring some private training to your organization, don’t hesitate to go to If you have a question or a comment for Perry and me, please leave it there. We’d love to hear from you.

Today’s topic is titled “The Teachable Leader – Engagement on Steroids.” Our titles have kind of become a focal point. What are we talking about when we say “engagement on steroids”? I’ve experienced that you can receive all the great advice, all of the great teaching, all the great lessons in the world, and that’s wonderful, but it won’t help if you don’t have a teachable spirit, a teachable mindset. For me, this has opened a ton of opportunities, having a teachable mindset, to fully engage my team. A teachable mindset means I don’t know it all. I always have more to learn. What I’m finding is, if I have this teachable mindset, when I’m around my folks, it accelerates engagement. It puts engagement “on steroids.” I think some leaders really struggle with this concept because everyone has a slight tendency to think they know everything. But you never know it all. If you have that mindset, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even if you do know something, there is always a different perspective from someone on your team that could challenge and uplift your thoughts on an idea. So you have to be open.

I have some questions to help everyone figure out if they are a teachable person. These questions will help you see how others perceive you as a leader. Number one: am I open to other people’s ideas? Do you value other people? If you do, you’re going to value what they can bring to the team, what they can add to what you’re already doing. If you’re not open to others’ ideas, then this shows that you don’t necessarily care. Think about the three questions John asks. One is “do people care for me?” Your team members are thinking this.

Here’s another one for you: “Do I listen more than I talk?” Some people in my life that don’t. This is important. The third question is “am I open to changing my opinion based on new information?” We’ve all had conversations with people where someone is listening to you, but you’re not changing their mind. You’re not there. They’re not going to allow you to add value to their thought process because they’re not open to change. You can always fall back on the “two ears, one mouth” theory, meaning you should be listening twice as much. People expect me, as the leader, to step up, talk, share, present. But remember, when you ask a question, the second part of that is listening to the answer. If I can get other people talking, I almost always learn more. By listening, I show that I value them, that they are relevant to what we’re doing. I expect them to have a point of view. I draw them into the conversation, and I listen with rapt attention to how they answer my questions.

I have to present myself as a teachable person. That second question about changing my opinions⁠—that’s tough for a lot of leaders. We think, “I’m supposed to be the smart one here. I’m supposed to have the vision. I’m supposed to have the direction.” I’ve found it challenging sometimes to say, “Tell me what I don’t know. How does it look from your seat? What are you seeing that I don’t see?” We used to teach our kids, “Don’t tell me you’re not going to do something, but you may appeal to me.” We call it the “appeal process.” Bring me new information, and I might change my mind. Most of the time with kids, they just want to get out of something. But every now and then, I found that they actually did have new information I didn’t have, and we needed to make a new decision. In business, I find I’m often open to changing my opinion, if it’s appropriate. This is at the root of what we teach around intention versus perception. It is our responsibility as leaders to close that gap. The only way to close that gap on your team is to allow your people to go through, as you called it, the appeal process.

Question number four: “Do I readily admit when I’m wrong?” I think that if you don’t do this as a leader, if you don’t just openly say, “Listen, I made a mistake,” and just call it for what it is, you create a culture of fear around making mistakes. Remember, leaders go first. So, just own it. A lot of us have a hard time doing that, but we’re all gonna make mistakes. We’re all human. So, you just need to step up and say, man, absolutely I’m wrong. Go first. Set the example, and I promise you, it will help with innovation, ideas, and the level of production that your team will generate for you. I worked for a senior leader once who walked into our team meeting, and he goes, “Man, did I mess up today. I was just up with the big bosses of the company, and I said something, I doubled down on it, and I was completely wrong. They called me on it.” You could hear a pin drop at our table. We realized, “Wow, it’s okay to admit mistakes.” Now we’re not only thinking it’s okay to make a mistake, we’re thinking it’s okay to open up to others about it.

Number five: “Do I observe before acting on a situation?” An unteachable person will think they’ve seen it all before, that they can act without thinking. Teachable leaders make observations and are open to new inputs. I think observation and experiences will teach us a lot, and we talk about it being a visual sport. You know, one of the things that John talks about is that it’s not just about the experiences or the observation, it’s the fact that you’ve taken time to evaluate what happened in that experience. Evaluate what you’re seeing before you react. Some of us have a tendency to react immediately, and others have a tendency to react more slowly. This is a great way for you to test your teachability. I had a friend who would start to answer your question before you even finished asking it. I would think, “That wasn’t what I was going to ask at all!” Now, after that, do you think I was more or less engaged? Here’s an idea: wait, observe, listen, and then respond. Don’t just start answering halfway through because you think you’ve seen it all before. I’m guessing you haven’t. Be teachable. Listen, learn, then lead. That’s a phrase that I try to live by.

All right, so two more questions. Six: “Do I ask questions?” When you’re in a conversation, are you doing a good job of asking follow-up questions? Some would call that the QBQ, right? I think that unlocks learning. So, in other words, “am I willing to ask a question that will expose my ignorance?” On another podcast, we talked about about “daring to be dumb.” Carol Dweck wrote about fixed versus growth mindsets. A fixed mindset would be when you say, “I don’t even want to ask a question because I’m fine where I am. My intelligence is fixed.” A growth mindset is about taking a chance and knowing that vulnerability makes you authentic. It makes you real. Others will think, “He doesn’t know everything, but he’s willing to learn.” That’s engagement on steroids.

Number eight is “Am I open to doing things in a way I haven’t before?” Number nine is similar: “Am I willing to ask for directions?” Listen, it’s not just a guy problem. I’m sure there are women that are listening that may have that same problem. But it is probably mostly a guy thing. But I want to talk a little bit about number eight. Being open to doing things in a way you haven’t before is a key part of not only developing yourself but developing your team members. Sometimes I want to insist on doing something a certain way, but I have to take a step back and allow some of my other team members to step up. This question has really helped me with that. What usually ends up happening when we remain open is we are even more successful than we would’ve been.

Number nine: “Am I willing to ask for directions?” We were kind of joking about this, but I do think this shows a teachable spirit as well. It goes hand-in-hand with asking questions and listening to the answer.

The last one: “Do I act defensive when criticized, or do I listen openly for the truth?” I love this question about how you react or respond when someone disagrees with or criticizes something you’ve said or done. This is hard for most leaders to do because you’re in a position of authority. It depends on how your organization sees hierarchy, too. I’ve been around the world and, in a lot of countries, they really embrace egalitarianism. Everybody has an equal voice, and they criticize each other up and down the ladder. They don’t care what your title is. The United States is a little different. Coach John Wooden said “everything we know, we learned from someone else.” I think our hardest lessons—our most productive lessons, if you want to look at it from a positive standpoint—are lessons you didn’t want to hear, that weren’t comfortable for you. But the growth that you gained from those lessons is something you wouldn’t change now, on the other side of it. That’s the benefit of being teachable. I think a teachable leader surrounds themselves with honest people that talk straight to them. A teachable leader has people that tell them the truth, whether it be your inner circle or your whole team. You don’t want a yes man. You want straight talk. I think teachable leaders have that.

We gave you 10 simple questions, and I don’t want you to answer them yourself. What I would love for you to do is to pick a couple of questions and ask them in your next one-on-one with some of your team members. By the way, Perry and I both encourage one-on-ones routinely with your team that reports directly to you. I want you to pose two or three of these questions. Maybe you give them the questions ahead of time and say, “Hey, I’m looking for candid feedback. I want to know this about myself, my leadership.” As I say, what’s it look like to be on the other side of my leadership? I promise you, if you do that, your team members will walk out of the meeting and think that was the best meeting they’d been in all day.

Just a reminder, if you want to know more about 5 Levels of Leadership or about the workshops that we offer, go to You can leave a question or a comment for us there. We always enjoy hearing from you. Thank you very much for joining us. That’s all from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

Leave us your questions below! Also, if you have suggestions for future podcast topics or would like to talk with Chris Goede about helping your company submit your feedback!

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