Leadership 4 Learning. #ASK. Leading with a Learner Mindset

Leadership 4 Learning

Change Leaders are Leaders who #ASK

Daring Leadership.

Previously we've discussed how the “I’m an Expert” mindset of some teachers is blocking the learner within and stopping the learner mindset from thriving. How can we encourage change around this culture?

Consider the times you have worked in a group with an identified leader. We expect that the leader will take the initiative, ask questions and encourage the group collectively to come up with answers that may not have arisen individually. However, how often does that really happen? How often do our teams communicate openly with their ideas and opinions? It is my experience that the hierarchy of command in schools can inhibit team members from speaking out frankly. The cause of this blockage is largely the “I’m the Expert” mindset.

Mindset Characteristics
In Dare to Lead - Brene Brown talks about armoured leadership and daring leadership. When distilled down to its essence, this is referring to leaders who armour up and lead from behind - the “I’m an Expert” mindset - and leaders who show up and stand before their group - the “I’m a Learner” mindset. Here are a few characteristics of each leadership mindset.

"I'm the Expert" Mindset Characteristics
Driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure.
Being a knower and being right.
Leading for compliance and control.

"I'm a Learner" Mindset Characteristics
Modelling and encouraging healthy striving, empathy and self-compassion.
Being a learner and wanting to get it right.
Cultivating commitment and shared purpose.

The “I’m the Expert” Mindset in a Leader.
Being the “knower” or the expert is exhausting, and yet so many leaders front up with this mindset. Unfortunately, needing to know everything is a fairly miserable position for the “I’m the Expert” and everyone around them. It can lead to distrust, bad decisions, unnecessary meetings, and unproductive conflict. It may sound a straightforward task to replace the “I’m the Expert” mindset with becoming a curious learner. But, for many people, the need to be the expert is driven by the need to prove worth or responsibility. Being an expert can save people in hard situations, and it’s easy to buy into the belief that being an expert is the only value we bring to relationships and work.

“I’m the Expert” mindset can also become a culture problem when only some people are valued as experts. Others don’t speak up because they’re not “senior enough” or it’s “not their place.”
One teacher I interviewed shared that he had been with his new school for six months and had never contributed to a meeting. He felt the cultural norms in action, the expectation of “sit up and shut up” until you have proven your worth. This is just one of the results of the “I’m the Expert” mindset in action


So, What About the Learner Mindset and its Place in our Leadership?

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There are three strategies which I’ve seen work to transform the “I’m the Expert” mindset into the Learner mindset.

Firstly – as Brene Brown says, Clear is Kind. Be curious and don’t make assumptions. If you are inclined towards the over assume syndrome, actively remind yourself always to check those assumptions. Remember, Clear is Kind.

Secondly - if you are an “I’m the Expert” orientated person, you are often quick with answers. This can be helpful, but certainly not as beneficial as asking the right questions, which is how you’ll grow as a leader. “I’m the Expert” mindset kind of people often have a lot of people talking behind their backs, and that’s unkind.

Lastly - make learning curiosity skills a priority. Acknowledge and reward great questions and instances of “I don’t know, but I’d like to find out”.

Change must begin with the person who wants the change. Change your questions, change your results.

In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, ‘What got you here won’t get you there.’”

Nga Mihi



Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead. Random House Publishing Group, 2018.


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Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.jpg
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Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead. Random House Publishing Group, 2018.

Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016

Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. Random House Publishing Group, 2015.