Be humble and teachable to lay the foundation of success

Apr 30 2013 - 5:17pm


Having launched 10 companies in my life time, I have tasted both success and failure. I have awards on my wall and scars on my back to prove it. I've now made it my life's goal to help others hasten their path to success and to avoid the pain of failure.

My first entrepreneurial venture was surprisingly successful and I recognized immediately that I enjoyed developing solutions for problems. I knew back then that I would never want be a corporate executive. It just isn't me. To support a growing family I had day jobs to pay bills, but worked in the evenings and weekends to launch new entities. Sadly, the next four companies I launched were total failures. I lost my shirt with each endeavor. Determined to succeed, I maintained a positive attitude by noting that the hard lessons learned from failures can be incredibly valuable.

Of all the tough lessons learned, being teachable and humble stand out as the most significant attributes for success. Their twin counterparts, pride and arrogance, are the cornerstones of failure. Friends, teachers, mentors and coaches are all willing to share their knowledge with modest people who are genuinely willing and eager to receive information. In fact, these folks are delighted to teach everything they know about a given topic. It's their way of giving back. On the other hand, conceited and haughty-minded fools are generally ignored and avoided by those luminaries who could provide sound advice and counsel.

Being teachable and humble is not about competency or mental ability; it is all about a thirst and an appreciation for knowledge. St. Augustine once said: "Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. Are you planning a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility." When I meet someone who is teachable they listen well, acknowledge their errors and fix them, continually seek more knowledge and surround themselves with seasoned educators. Accolades, promotions and high achievement await those who follow these time tested behaviors.

Be a good listener

Exceptional workers, managers and leaders are great listeners. We are not listening nor learning when we're speaking. Being a quality listener requires personal discipline and a high regard for others. The best leaders I have ever known were patient people who listened attentively to an associate and only asked questions for clarification. They never lectured or pontificated. They eagerly took notes and added in the margins new and unique epiphanies. Successful business leaders know how to carefully listen to customers, employees and advisers.

Admit mistakes

and correct them

All too often in business I watch workers blame others or make excuses for their mistakes at work or in life. Teachable and humble workers accept their errors and find ways to fix mistakes even if the consequences of their actions are not applauded. In short, mature men and women find that errors are part of life and accept the fact that they are responsible for their imperfect decisions and actions. They recognize that every gaffe can be a lesson unto itself and an opportunity for personal growth.

Never stop learning

Exceptional people have an unrelenting inner drive to learning new information. It's in their DNA to be lifelong students. They are eager to discover new unexplored worlds. Award winning entrepreneurs exemplify this passion for education. They are like small children, always asking why followed by an energetic pursuit of the facts. Today, information on practically any topic is readily accessible for those who seek it.

Mentors are wonderful teachers.

Every prominent executive I know has mentors. They have established quality relationships with people who have accumulated a high level of expertise in a given discipline and are eager to share what they know with others. Although the Internet is loaded with a treasure trove of information, there is nothing quite like a personal conversation with a guru who has done it all.

The late Dr. Stephen R. Covey was a terrific personal mentor of mine. Our enjoyable relationship began while I was one of his graduate students. Having had the privilege of studying with Dr. Covey during college and afterwards, most of my business philosophy and the values I honor were internalized as he taught me the powerful principles of life and work found in his highly praised book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People."

My counsel to one and all is to find your own mentors. Listen to them. Develop their skills. Tap in to their substantial networks of friends and associates. Make note of what they have learned from both failures and successes. Please remember to be teachable and humble. I promise you, without hesitation, that your application of these virtues will bring you success and fulfillment at work and in your personal life.

For questions or comments, please contact me at @AskAlanEHall or via I welcome your thoughts on this topic and others.

From Around the Web