Tag Archive for Learn

The More You Know . . .

In the last few weeks, as I have been sharing lessons that I have learned throughout my life from my dad, I feel like I keep seeing a common thread: the importance of being a learner. I’ve talked about things like “Never stop learning” and “Do (and learn) as much as you can until you’re 40,” and I’ve shared my thoughts on books that I’ve read that also contain lessons on the value of learning. So it makes sense, then, that this week I share another lesson related to the same topic that is also something that I often heard my father say: “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”


Like many of the things he said to me, it was simple and catchy, but with real depth when you spend some time thinking about it (which, of course, I have done). It seems to me that this simple little saying has several valuable implications:


  • You don’t – and can’t – know everything. If there is anything that we have learned in this information age, it is that there is a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge (some of it good, some of it not so much) accessible to us. Much of it can be found in a couple of seconds by Googling it, but there is far more information out there than one person can know or remember. However, this also means that it is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all anyway.


  • Realize that other people know things you don’t know (and vice versa). Although you can’t know everything about everything, and you probably can’t even know everything about one thing, there are probably some things about which you are much more knowledgeable than others. Perhaps from having more experience, or from specific study, or from natural inclination, but regardless, you are likely an “expert” on something; at least, much more so than many others. But the same thing is true for those others. They are likely “experts” on things of which your knowledge and experience is much more limited. Therefore, it is a mark of wisdom and good leadership to recognize this, and to learn from and partner with others who know things you don’t know, or who can do things that you can’t do (or can’t do as well). That’s whyit is probably more important in today’s world to know where and how to find information, than it is to know it all


  • Never stop learning. Even though you can’t know it all, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to learn more. Each generation builds on the knowledge gained by the previous generation, and we should be part of the process of building that knowledge. In addition, building our knowledge also makes us better at what we do, because we have learned more and know more.


Putting this all together, it means that as you grow in knowledge, experience, and wisdom, you become much more aware of how much it is that still don’t know. That realization should help to keep you humble about your own knowledge and expertise, and should make you more willing to make use of the knowledge and abilities of others. At the same time, even with the realization that you can’t know everything, still never stop learning more. The more you continue to learn, the more you can grow and improve.

Before You Can Do It, You Have to Know It

Before you can teach and lead others, you have to live it. In order to live it, you have to know it. I experienced this (or better put, failed at this) in my first experience as the top leader in an organization. To be honest, as I walked in the door I was questioning my own preparedness, unsure of whether I knew enough to be able to lead well. But I had been given the opportunity, so I quelled my fears and jumped.

I arrived at a place that had longstanding, competent employees, and my relative youth probably didn’t help. In my enthusiasm, I started to run without first taking the time to learn. I began making changes (some of them drastic) and implementing new policies and procedures, but failed to take the time to study the history, culture, and people involved. As a result, my actions stemmed from ignorance rather than knowledge, and the result was conflict and disruption. It wasn’t until I took the time to learn that my actions of leadership could represent the right knowledge and therefore win followers and become effective.

But for Christian leaders, this truth goes much deeper: to be effective in your actions of leadership, you must first and foremost have a personal and in-depth knowledge of God and His Word. Your knowledge of His truth is more important than anything else in your preparation. Ezra, as a leader, provides a great example of this. In the description of his preparation for leadership – and more pointedly, his preparation for a specific task – Ezra 7:10 states, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Clearly he had prepared himself for what he was about to undertake, but notice the order of the steps, because the order is important! The first step in the process was “to seek the law of the Lord,” which led him to living out what he knew, and in turn enabled him to teach and to lead. People followed him because his life gave him the credibility to lead, but first having the knowledge gave him the capability to lead.

What does it mean, then, that he had sought the law of the Lord? It means that he had spent time with God. He had studied the Scriptures intensely and diligently, learning who God is and what He says. And that took time and intentional practice. At the core, this is a basic and fundamental part of the Christian walk, and so it shows up nearly everywhere that someone talks about steps of growth. Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, discusses the importance of first having the private world of the inner man in order, and says that this must come from developing intimacy with God through regular time with Him and in His Word. Tim Challies, in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, explains that the ability to discern is directly related to knowledge of God and of His Word. J. P. Moreland, in Love Your God with All Your Mind, communicates that faith is also an act of reason, based on truth – specifically the truth of Scripture – and therefore Scripture must be studied for faith to grow. Kevin DeYoung, in Taking God at His Word, explores the doctrine of Scripture, and in the process argues for the importance and necessity of reading and studying the Bible. And the list could go on and on. The clear understanding is that every Christian (not just leaders) needs to regularly spend time with God, studying Scripture and building that personal relationship.

Scripture itself supports this truth, as is seen in the examples of men and women of God (like Ezra), but as is also specifically stated. Psalm 1 describes the person who will be blessed because of his moral choices, and states in verse 2 that this is someone “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” In the book of Joshua, chapter 1,verse 8, as Joshua is preparing to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God challenges and encourages him with this statement: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” The bottom line is, our thought processes, choices, and outcomes are directly impacted by our time spent in the Word of God.

As a crucial byproduct of studying Scripture, Ezra developed an intimate, personal relationship with God. Because of that personal and deep relationship, he didn’t simply learn to know who God was and is; he also came to understand God’s nature and heart. He had developed a relationship that enabled him to trust in God even in uncertainty and difficulty. It was from this relationship that he was therefore able to move and act with confidence in God’s sovereign plan, and that he was able to see God’s hand and His purpose in the events that occurred.

This is a critical lesson for you and me. Leaders must be learners; but Christian leaders must also be learners of God’s Word. Therefore, in our leadership development, we absolutely must study Scripture, growing in intimacy with God. We need regular time with God, in prayer and in His Word. This must be central and foundational to what we do, how we live, and to our call or purpose from Him. Doing this first is what makes us knowledgeable and gives us the capability to lead, because we will learn to see people and circumstances from God’s perspective, shaping how we think and act. It is from this growth of knowledge and relationship with God that we are able to “walk the talk,” modeling and practicing what we know, and living authentic, genuine lives that inspire trust and result in effective leadership.

Quotable (Bennis & Thomas, on learning)

“In the extreme, the capacity for reinvention comes to resemble eternal youth – a kind of vigor, openness, and an enduring capacity for wonder that is the antithesis of stereotyped old age . . . this [is a] quality, a delight in lifelong learning, which every leader displays, regardless of age . . . it’s an appetite for  learning and self-development, a curiosity and passion for life.”

Bennis, Warren, and Thomas, Robert, “Crucibles of Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.


A Leader is a Learner

Years ago, my family was having a get-together at my parents’ home, and while we were sitting around the dinner table, my dad made a comment about someday wanting to build a deck on the back of the house. One of my two brothers suggested that we do it the next day, because there likely would be very few times that we would all be together at the same time again. So, my dad sketched out the plans, and the next morning we went to the lumber store, picked up all the supplies, and then the four of us proceeded to spend the next eight hours building a large deck. What a great memory!

When we were all finished, my dad commented on how he could see certain attributes of each of our personalities throughout the process. One of the observations that he made about me was that I was constantly asking questions, trying to understand why were doing things in a certain way, and learning from the experience. And that observation was an accurate reflection. In fact, on the StrengthsFinder profile, “learner” is one of my top characteristics. As I have continued to study, learn, and grow in my leadership development, I have seen that this is a common characteristic of effective leadership: leaders are learners.

Bennis and Thomas, in an article originally published in the Harvard Business Review, found this to be true in all of their interview subjects for their research. Their interviewees all described opportunities for reinvention that came from transformative experiences, and all of them placed great value on the learning that took place from those experiences. The authors went on to describe this learning by saying, “In the extreme, the capacity for reinvention comes to resemble eternal youth – a kind of vigor, openness, and an enduring capacity for wonder that is the antithesis of stereotyped old age . . . this [is a] quality, a delight in lifelong learning, which every leader displays, regardless of age . . . it’s an appetite for learning and self-development, a curiosity and passion for life” (Bennis & Thomas, Crucibles of Leadership, in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, p. 106). What they discovered is that leaders are constantly learning, and doing so with passion and enthusiasm.

I have often told my own children that you learn just about everything from experience – either your own experience or someone else’s, but it’s usually far less painful to learn from someone else’s experience. However, the pain (or joy) of learning from your own experience can often be a much more effective teacher. In another article originally published in the Harvard Business Review, John Kotter pointed out that “leaders almost always have had opportunities during their twenties and thirties to actually try to lead, to take a risk, and to learn from both triumphs and failures. Such learning seems essential in developing a wide range of leadership skills and perspectives. These opportunities also teach people something about both the difficulty of leadership and its potential for producing change” (Kotter, What Leaders Really Do, in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, p.53).   A key word in that last sentence is “potential” – the potential for growth and change is there, but only if the leader learns. Therefore, if the leader is a learner, he or she will learn from every opportunity, and in that process will continually become a more effective leader. But if that person is not a learner, he is destined to repeat the same mistakes and will fail to develop.

In essence, learning needs to be part of the nature of an effective leader. Expanding a broad, general knowledge base; increasing an understanding of human behavior; studying culture and history on both a macro-level (globally and nationally) and a micro-level (organizationally); learning more about leadership; taking up new hobbies and interests; asking questions; exploring, discovering, reading, and engaging the mind; all can be part of the growth and development of a leader. Becoming a learner will stretch your mind, build your knowledge, and open your eyes to new insights. It will help you to make connections between ideas and to understand people. It will help you to be a more effective leader. Leaders are learners. Be a learner.

Look for an article on the value of being a learner of God’s Word in your leadership development, in an upcoming “Leadership Lessons from the Bible” post.

Bennis, W. G., and Thomas, R. J., “Crucibles of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Kotter, J. P., “What Leaders Really Do,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (2011). Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.