How do I maintain a teachable attitude?


Teachability is not so much about competence and mental capacity as it is about attitude. 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 love the way legendary basketball coach John Wooden states it: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

When I teach and mentor leaders, I remind them that if they stop learning, they stop leading. But if they remain teachable and keep learning, they will be able to keep making an impact as leaders. Whatever your talent happens to be – whether it’s leadership, craftsmanship, entrepreneurship, or something else – you will expand it if you keep expecting and striving to learn.

Futurist and author John Naisbitt believes that “the most important skill to acquire is learning how to learn.” Here is what I suggest as you pursue teachability:

1. Learn to listen.

American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and one to hear.” Being a good listener helps us to know people better, to learn what they have learned, and to show them that we value them as individuals.

As you go through each day, remember that you can’t learn if you’re always talking. As the old saying goes, “There’s a reason you have one mouth and two ears.” Listen to others and remain humble, and you will learn things that can help you expand your talent.

2. Understand the learning process.

Here’s how learning typically works:

    STEP 1: Act.

  • STEP 2: Look for your mistakes and evaluate.
  • STEP 3: Search for a way to do it better.
  • STEP 4: Go back to Step 1.

Remember, the greatest enemy of learning is knowing. And the goal of all learning is action, not knowledge. If what you are doing does not in some way contribute to what you or others are learning in life, then question its value and be prepared to make changes.

3. Look for and plan teachable moments.

If you look for opportunities to learn in every situation, you will expand your talent to its potential. But you can also take another step beyond this and actively seek out and plan teachable moments. You do that by reading books, visiting places that inspire you, attending events that prompt you to pursue change, and spending time with people who stretch you and expose you to new experiences.

4. Make your teachable moments count.

Even people who are strategic about seeking teachable moments can miss the whole point of the experience. I say this because for many years I’ve been a speaker at conferences and workshops – events that are designed to help people learn. But I’ve found that many people walk away from an event and do very little with what they heard.

We tend to focus on learning events instead of the learning process. Because of this, I try to help people take action steps that will help them implement what they learn. I suggest that in their notes, they pay special attention to

  • Points they need to think about
  • Changes they need to make
  • Lessons they need to apply
  • Information that they need to share

Then after the conference, I recommend that they create to-do lists based on what they took note of, then schedule time to follow through.

5. Ask yourself, “Am I really teachable?”

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: all the good advice in the world won’t help if you don’t have a teachable spirit. To know whether you are really open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, ask yourself the following questions:

  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?

If you answered no to one or more of these questions, then 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!”

Adapted from Self-Improvement 101

Just another note: I’m very excited about a new program I’m involved with: A Minute with Maxwell.

It’s a daily video program featuring short lessons from me on a variety of topics, like perspective, integrity, self-leadership, and persistence.

Signup is free, and besides viewing the videos, you can also influence content by suggesting topics. I hope you’ll join me by signing up at JohnMaxwellTeam.com.

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  1. 1
    Larry Baxter says:

    One of the best ways I’ve found to maintain a teachable attitude is to work on something hard that you don’t know how to do, with someone who is quite different from you or doesn’t think the same way you do. There’s nothing quite so learning-inducing as wanting desperately to see good results and not having a clue how to get there.

    Good article!

  2. 2

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  3. 3

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John C Maxwell, GeoffWasserman, J.mark johns, Christopher Sell, Thought Provoking and others. Thought Provoking said: How do I maintain a teachable attitude?: Teachability is not so much about competence and mental capacity as … http://digfoc.us/ea4zuM […]

  4. 4

    I love it. I would like to translate this article to be published in Portuguese in my web site. Can I?
    Thank you so much for share you knowledge!

  5. 5

    Interesting! I was just re-posting your teaching on the word I submitted yesterday and I said that you are one of my most impactful teachers. For me, growing is a priority! I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t growing, learning, and sharing. I believe it’s part of my destiny. I love hearing something NEW.
    Funny though, it’s usually been said before and it’s usually the “How we hear it”,. “When we hear it” or “Who we hear it from” that makes it sound fresh. I suppose that’s part of the gifts of Revelation. I SEEK them! I want to be tested, challenged, and changed for the better. I look forward to having my “UH HA!” moments because they make me MORE and better. I want to thank you for being YOU and mentoring me through your hindsight.

  6. 6
    Zenobia Wise says:

    Powerful message and so timely! Thanks so much for sharing. I was just talking about this very thing [maintaining a teachable attitude] last week and I shared with my friends: ‘If I learn compassion, it matters not if the instruction comes from a pastor, a life coach, a homeless guy or a five 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.’

  7. 7
    christy moods says:

    Pride and not respecting others are two of the locks that keep the door to our learning closed. Humility requires thinking of others more and thinking of yourself less. If you are full of yourself you are to proud to learn especially for those in leadership. Leadership is first of all servanthood. Listening to people is easiest way to add value to others in return they will respect and honor you. Jesus knew what He was talking above when He said love others as yourself. Brilliant statement and step to advancement.

  8. 8
    christy moosa says:

    Pride and not respecting others are two of the locks that keep the door to our learning closed. Humility requires thinking of others more and thinking of yourself less. If you are full of yourself you are to proud to learn especially for those in leadership. Leadership is first of all servanthood. Listening to people is easiest way to add value to others in return they will respect and honor you. Jesus knew what He was talking above when He said love others as yourself. Brilliant statement and step to advancement. A good leader is first of all a good listener.

  9. 9
    Imtiaz says:

    Dear John,

    Thanks for shring this wisdom on learning. This post has clarified all the illusion that hinders the learning process. Learning is as essential to leadership as fragrance to flowers. It shines and polish leadership qualities. And, in my humble view leadership is nothing but an unending process of learning.

    Kindest Regards,


  10. 10
    RentMyChurch says:

    Powerful post – thanks for sharing!

  11. 11
    Jon Wilburn says:


    Fantastic article. I’ve always prided myself in being teachable, but I also understand that their is always something to learn.
    As I’ve gone through life I always expected to know more and more, until one day an older, wiser gentleman, whom I admired said, “The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.” I thought it was funny at first until it started happening to me.

    I’ve realized learning is a life long process , and it never stops.

    Always appreciate your insights.

    Jon Wilburn

  12. 12
    Sidney Eluwa says:

    Thanks alot Sir, for being a blessing to this generation, and for the impact in my life…
    That willingness to learn,unlearn and relearn not the ability to teach is what makes one ever relevant.

  13. 13
    Ray Callahan says:

    “Seek first to understand before being understood!” Thanks John.

  14. 14
    Judy White says:

    Dr. Maxwell,

    Thank you for your refreshing post!

    With Gratitude,
    Judy White SPHR GPHR HCS

  15. 15
    Yvonne Green says:

    This reminds me of another one of my favorite quotes “The Greatest leaders are listeners: — Dr. John C Maxwell
    I must admit I learn more from listening than talking.
    There really is something that I can learn from each person I meet. I’m convinced they know at least one thing that I do not. In my opinion Listening is not just learning but listening is an art.

  16. 16
    Angie says:

    Teachability has a lot to do with respect. Respect is gained or lost whenever there is or is no mutuality in the relationship. It also has to do with having enough knowledge about another that one wants to learn, and grasp whatever it is that is known and respected in the other, Not everyone will earn or have the right to “mentor” another. And sometimes it is just a matter of different priorities. I think that it is wise to not expose oneself continously to those that have not shown respect to you.

  17. 17
    Budi Andryan says:

    Woww.. It’s one of your great sharing,

    I really love to learn your thought because you’re never stop learning.
    Really inspired me to also try to spread my thoughts to the people surround me by writing and teaching and let them know to learn from you.

    Nice to know you Sir and hopefully you continue to share your thoughts to us who are having the desire to be leaders and impact the society with the positive manner. Thank you Sir,

    Warmest regards,
    – Budi Andryan –

  18. 18
    Antoinette Green says:

    I can relate to this so well. I love to learn new things. Sometimes I dont like what I learn but nevertheless, it takes me to better and higher places.
    Thank you for your thoughts on this topic….More lessons for a better life :)

  19. 19

    […] How do I maintain a teachable attitude? | John Maxwell on Leadership […]

  20. 20

    Thanks so much – this is really good. Psalm 90:12 (Teach us to number our days to gain a heart of wisdom) and Ephesians 5:15-17 (Live carefully, make the most of every opportunity and understand the Lord’s will) have been on my heart for a couple weeks now and your writing/message will help me follow-thru. A teachable attitude is key to living carefully, being able to make the most of every opportunity and understanding the Lord’s will and plan for our lives. I am praying for and so need a teachable attitude to be a Christian leader. Thank you!

  21. 21
    Gabe Arnold says:

    I like this line the best John “the goal of all learning is action, not knowledge.”

    That’s a good reminder to take action. Taking action always teaches us something.

  22. 22

    Excellent reminder that Learning without Implementation is incomplete. Thank you!

  23. 23

    Really learning is not passive, requires attitude. We who are always alert to new things. This helps in the process of sustainable creativity.

  24. 24
    Ricardo Guerrero says:

    Thank you for this block, think is very important not to forget humble, and now I understand that the goal of learning is action and not knowledge.
    Really thanked

  25. 25
    angie says:

    Knowledge is not just for vocational purposes, but, also to protect one from abuses of power. Remember what the Founders said about maintaining a Republic and the educated populace….as well as the need for the individual to have such knowledge for his own “person”.

    Today, we have some problems because too much of what the government does is not openly obvious or reported by the media. And if it is reported, it is biased against conservatism.

  26. 26

    […] How Do I Maintain a Teachable Spirit? via @johncmaxwell January 27, 2011 // 0 Amplify’d from johnmaxwellonleadership.com […]

  27. 27
    Keith S. Aul says:

    I’m glad you mentioned the steps for learning. The second step says it greatly: Look for your mistakes. Anything we do, we don’t do successfully the first time around or even the fifth time at it. The only way we learn is through stumbling first.

  28. 28

    […] John Maxwell explains how to maintain a teachable attitude […]

  29. 29
    Tosin Adekanmbi says:

    Indeed everything we know was learnt from someone else.Teachability is developed from our desire for improvement.To see changes and personal growth in our lives we must be open minded and prepare daily for new experiences that comes from allowing others impact our lives in positive ways.Humility is a prerequisite to being teachable.Thanks for sharing ways to develop our teachability.

  30. 30
    angie says:

    Teachability should only be one’s attutide toward those that have gained respect and knowledge that you deem important or of value.

    Humility is a character trait that understands that none of us know everything, but it does not necessitate “submission”.

  31. 31
    Cathie Heath says:

    Remaining teachable is one of the prime qualities of
    leadership…an outward manifestation of a humble spirit.

    Being open to those teachable moments that come our way
    ensures our growth, but only if we apply what we learn.

    It begs the question, if we aren’t taking action on and/or
    incorporating the lesson, have we really learned it?

    Appreciated this article, John.