Knowing When to Learn

by Onyeka Nchege on September 7, 2015


Learner driverAs many of you know, I am a huge proponent of life-long learning. It is my belief that the catalyst of our individual growth is when we are challenged to learn more.

Some of our challenges to learn more include:

  • Lack of internal motivations and curiosities,
  • Mistakes we have made,
  • External factors – careers, family members or time constraints – and
  • Attitude or mindset.

In a recent leadership journey (Integral Leadership Program) I have started with some of my new teammates, the purpose is to learn and understand the process of organizational learning and the level of positive impact it can have. During a particular leadership module on modes of learning, the concept that most resonated with me was that of the Knower attitude versus the Learner attitude.

In a nutshell, some basic traits of the knower attitude include: extremely competent in their capabilities, believes there is nothing more to learn in their discipline, often defensive when receiving feedback or questioning, and places their own perspective ahead of others’ ideas. For the learner attitude, some basic traits include: persists through frustration when encountering mistakes during the learning process, acceptance of individual learning gaps, seeks opportunities to learn more and looks for perspectives that are different from their own in order to widen their understanding.

Now as I pride myself on the belief that I am a continual learner, this class taught me to recognize those times when I am reacting as a knower. In a recent meeting I had with the executive leadership team at Interstate Batteries, we were asked to analyze an earlier situation, just as athletes analyze game films. My initial reaction to doing this exercise was there is nothing more to analyze, because we had already discussed it and needed to move on to the next priority (knower). However, as the team “game-filmed” the earlier situation, I realized my participation (lack thereof) had put me squarely in the knower mode hence blocking my ability to learn from the exercise. In retrospect, I saw many listening opportunities that I did not take advantage of while the situation was occurring, which would have been a benefit to everyone involved (learner). In this situation, being in the learner mode would have served me well.

No matter where we are in life or how advanced we are in our careers, it is important for each of us to understand that we are all flawed beings, and it is the recognition of those flaws that supports our growth. The knowers in each of us hold tightly to our abilities, perspectives and values, because, for many of us these things have propelled us to our current points and have contributed to our lists of accomplishments. However, it is important to remember your journey for continual growth occurs when the learner in each of us simply informs the knower in us that these things – accomplishments, current abilities, current perspectives – are by no means finite. There is always room for growth!  

It bears pointing out here that there are times when it is acceptable and expected that you will be a knower, especially within your  leadership role, and particularly when decisive decisions are required.  The key is knowing when to be a learner and when to leverage the capabilities and competence you have acquired over the years (learnings that make you a knower) to push the organization forward.  

Take Action: Digest the learner/knower perspectives and decide today to embrace the learner in you.

Leadership on the GO…..It’s O.N



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Onyeka Nchege is the Chief Information Officer for Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated (CCBCC), the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler in the United States. A frequent speaker on technology empowerment, leadership development, and business improvement, Onyeka is a graduate of the Georgia State University J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Onyeka currently serves on the Board of Directors for Apparo, Advisory Board for UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte, and Bethel Baptist Church Ministries.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Paris Fogle September 10, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Great post Onyeka! Thank you for putting yourself out there – your beliefs and experiences, for us to share and continue to grow from. You’ve forever changed my perspective since that day you asked me for feedback after presenting to over 15,000 people live on stage. I don’t think I grasped the gravity of the situation at the time, but it was a pivotal moment that I am forever grateful for. THANK YOU! #Mentor

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avatar Onyeka Nchege September 10, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Wow…thanks PFogle!! Much appreciated. I continue to learn from you and others.

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avatar Jabari Alexander September 14, 2015 at 10:48 am

I am naturally a learner attitude type! I sit back and digest! At some point after attaining junior level employees into my department I definitely put forth the knower attitude to share knowledge and give a heads up! There are times when I revert back to a learner to ask a senior employee to clarify information and to answer questions that I do not know! Thanks for the article because it makes me aware that I must be flexible and open in gathering information and displaying what I know!

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avatar Onyeka Nchege September 16, 2015 at 8:02 am

Well said sir! I appreciate how you mentor and coach others while at same time remain in learner mode.

Thanks for sharing!

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