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

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

Change Leaders are Leaders who #ASK

Your Label - Or Lack Thereof - Does Not Define You!

"We can't give people what we don't have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be."

Brene Brown, Dare to Lead.

I used to think that who I was as a person, or what other people thought of me was defined by the title I had or the label that I wore, won or created. If I had a label, that label would tell or inform others of my capability and capacity to lead, make a change and decide on what's next best steps. It has taken some time for me to figure out that it is my actions as a leader that defines who I am and not the label on my badge.

It is interesting, though, that when we are just starting, we strive for labels. Why do we do this? To be recognised. To be noticed. To feel we are worthy. We strive for specific labels: Teacher, Team Leader, Head of Department, Deputy Principal, Principal.

If you hold such a label, what was it that first attracted you to gain it? The actual label? So that you could carry seniority and have more influence? Or was it something else? Did you feel that if you had the label, then others would listen? Would you be in more of a position to get change happening? I know that was certainly the case for me in the past.

Often - especially in structured hierarchy organisations - with labels comes the ability to contribute differently, to make a difference. It is rather sad that our organisations are structured as such. That you need a label before you can participate at different levels. I know for many of us in schools, this is still the case, even if we strive for it not to be so.

I often hear - too often - in schools, comments, all be it in passing, that are hierarchy orientated and shut down those who don't have a label or position. This approach leads to the "I'm the Expert" mindset, which we know contributes to locking down learning and preventing all members of a community from growing to be everything they can be.

When we hide behind labels or use our labels to inform our actions, we are at risk of creating a culture where the "I'm the Expert" mindset thrives, and the "I'm a Learner" mindset struggles to gain traction. 

When we operate in a system in which our label informs the actions we take, we can either find ourselves empowered to take action or disempowered by the limitation that the label creates. However, in such cases, if we lack the label for action - then our learning and potential are often stifled, snuffed out like a flame without oxygen.

For some, a label empowers action. For others, labels limit actions. Imagine a place and space where our actions inform our label, rather than our label informing our actions. That would create an organisation with a powerful learning culture.

Speaking of labels, "Inquiry Expert" seems to be a label I have gained. That's a label I didn't apply for or even try to get. It has emerged organically out of the work I do. My actions have informed my label, and that is empowering!

We need to stop standing behind our labels or waiting for the label before we act. We need to stand tall in front of the labels and let who we are and what we value be the most important thing. Not what we know or who we want to be. 

We can't give people what we don't have. 

Who we are and what we value leads us to why labels can create problems. These problems can occur when our label delivers expectations, which as a person, we can't deliver, or if our label is at dissonance with our values and who we are. I often see leaders who hide behind their label with an "I'm the Expert" mindset talk things up but who are unable to follow it up with action. This situation is what Brene Brown calls the "disengagement divide". The disengagement divide occurs when our espoused theory is misaligned with our approach in action, and our practised values are misaligned with our aspirational values.

As Brene Brown says, "Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be." The space between our practised values (what we're actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) is the value gap. As leaders, this is where we need to be incredibly mindful of who we are, not what we know or who we want to be. We must lean into our values in our leadership roles and communicate out with authenticity within and to our teams. It is not about who has what label and who should or should not be the keeper of the knowledge. Everyone in the group has something to contribute regardless of their label. If we want to grow great people, then as leaders, we need to step out from behind the label.

Nga Mihi



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


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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.