“Think of all the successful people you know, what is it that distinguishes them all? It’s teachability, isn’t it? Think of all the people you know that never really made the most of the gifts and opportunities God gave them. Unteachability is the common thread, isn’t it?”
There’s one characteristic that separates the successful from the unsuccessful in every walk of life: teachability.
Those who are teachable, and remain so, usually succeed. The unteachable usually fail. I’ve seen that in business, I’ve seen it in the ministry, I’ve seen it among students, and I’ve seen it in my children.
No matter how much talent and gifting we have, if we are, or become, unteachable, we will never reach anywhere near our full potential in our careers, our callings, or our relationships.
The Distinguishing Difference
Think of all the successful people you know, what is it that distinguishes them all? It’s teachability, isn’t it? Think of all the people you know that never really made the most of the gifts and opportunities God gave them. Unteachability is the common thread, isn’t it?
If there’s one thing I want to to teach my children and students, it’s teachability.
When I speak to young people or students, I can usually tell quite quickly the ones who will do well in their lives and callings… and those who won’t. Teachability makes the difference.
Teachability gets people to the top. But if you lose teachability at the top, you won’t be at the top for long.
So what does unteachabilty look like?
- Doesn’t take notes, read books, or learn anything unless it’s the bare minimum or what’s essential for exam purposes.
- Doesn’t ask questions or attempt anything that might reveal ignorance or risk looking stupid.
- Doesn’t accept responsibility for failures but blames anyone and everyone else.
- Doesn’t seek or accept one-to-one personal guidance or mentoring from parents, teachers, pastors, elders, etc.
- Doesn’t listen, but talks, talks, talks about self, especially when with someone you could learn a lot from.
- Doesn’t take criticism or correction without resentment or retaliation.
- Resists moving out of personal comfort zones in work, study, ministry, or relationships, but always looks for the easy and familiar route.
- Doesn’t read, listen to, or learn anything that challenges existing presuppositions, practices, and prejudices.
In contrast, teachability means:
- You’re aware of the limitations of your own knowledge and abilities.
- You admit limitation, inability, and ignorance to others who can teach and help.
- You regularly ask for help, instruction, guidance, and advice (before the event, not after disaster strikes).
- You learn from anyone and everyone you can (the best educated pastor I know writes notes for his own benefit even when listening to a novice preacher).
- You listen to others carefully and patiently with a desire to learn from everyone.
- You’re prepared to move out of your comfort zone, try something different, make mistakes, look stupid, answer wrongly, etc.
- You don’t give up when you fail at something, but seek help, and try again and again until you get it right.
- You’re willing to change your views and practices when convincing evidence is presented to you, even if it means admitting you were wrong.
There’s another word for teachability.
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.