Michael was the Pastor of a small church. He led a team of five core members to carry out the vision he set, help him accomplish his goals, and provide for the daily running of the organization. For the first few years, Michael saw extreme success and incredible growth, building a prosperous and fulfilling ministry. He added a few part time people to the team and things continued to look up. But then things started to go wrong.
From its inception, the church was led solely through the vision Michael provided. As time passed, he became more entrenched in his vision and went so far as to ask people to leave the church who were deemed “disruptive” to this vision. After all, God provided the vision, right? This attitude began to creep into other areas of Michael’s life. Communication problems? Not his fault – he always communicated clearly (according to him!) Staff problems? It’s the staff’s fault and they need to be corrected. A segment of the ministry wasn’t running well? He just needed better leaders that would actually do the job. Michael had fallen into the trap many leaders face – he was not teachable.
In businesses, non-profits, churches, and volunteer groups, there is always a leader and that leader always has a team. It may be informal, or formal, but you can’t have a leader without followers. Teams come with opinions, ideas, experience, and expertise that usually differ from the leader, but ultimately round-0ut the organization. When a leader fails to be teachable, things go wrong fast.
What does a failure to be teachable cause:
- Lack of engagement – When the leader is always right, team members and those they serve pick up on this quickly. At first, they view the leader as strong and self-confident. But this quickly turns into disillusionment and lack of engagement when they realize their leader is just prideful and unwilling to consider or even listen to their ideas.
- Sub-par service – No leader is all-knowing. Those that try to be end up making bad decisions and execute poorly on the mission. Involving their team to create solutions is the most effective way to solve the problems facing the organization. Even bad ideas can be the spark that leads to the ultimate solution.
- Turnover – Staff that don’t feel listened to don’t feel valued. This is usually a progression from the previous result. An unteachable leader often hears ideas and suggestions and then pushes back on them because they aren’t part of the “plan” in his or her mind. You will often hear the unteachable leader say things like “that’s not how we do it here. Take it or leave it.” Or they will precede a conversation over differing views by stating they have done enough research on the topic and they are confident in their position. This is a huge red flag. When staff face this attitude long enough, they quit. Estimates show the cost of replacing staff to be about 20-25% of their annual salary. How is that being a good steward of finances?
- Stagnation – There is a saying I use in the training world when someone tells me “If I train them and they just leave, then I wasted the money.” I respond with ” You know what is far scarier? What if you don’t train them, and they stay?” Worse than number 3 is when an unteachable leader, rather than losing people, has them stay when they no longer care.
- Overburden – the unteachable leader ultimately begins taking back delegated tasks because they “aren’t being done right.” They have begun to believe that for the job to be done correctly, they have to do it themselves. They often follow this belief with a thought about training taking too long. This is the height of foolishness.
So how do you change from being unteachable to being teachable? Let me say from personal experience, it’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. And likely, it’s a challenge you’ll continue to face. Here are some suggestions on overcoming this:
- Ask close friends how teachable and humble you are. Beg them to be honest if you have to. A word of caution, though: I’ve seen many Pastor’s wives who shared the same problem as their husband, especially if they are heavily involved in the church, and they ended up supporting each other in this error. Your spouse is probably not the best person to ask in this situation.
- Apologize and ask your team to call you on being unteachable. Recognize that this is a hard thing to change and it will take dogged determination to overcome. But, the results are well worth it as the church will become much stronger, and will better fulfill its mission.
- Purposefully seek out the ideas and opinions of others. You don’t have to make promises that you’ll follow their suggestions, but just the act of seeking them out will make those people feel more valued, and help you begin to overcome the “my way or the highway” mentality.
- Get back up. You’ll fail at this. A lot. But when you do, get back up and keep trying. Awareness will go a long way towards helping you improve, and in the end, your efforts will pay off.
Are you teachable? Even the best leaders can struggle regularly with this. It doesn’t matter if you are a leader in a for-profit or a non-profit organization. The lesson applies just the same. Be teachable. Your organization depends on it.