the shape of leadership

Becoming Teachable

A review of The Key to Everything by Matt Keller

George P Wood on October 20, 2015


To be honest, I'm not the kind of guy who reads books like The Key to Everything. For one thing, I prefer reading "theory" books to "practice" books. For another thing, I am wary of authors who promise simple answers to complex questions, let alone the key to everything.

Simplicity comes in at least two kinds, however. The first is synonymous with foolishness. In this sense, a simple person-a simpleton-lacks knowledge or expertise. The second kind pertains to science. In this sense, a simple formula can explain complex phenomena. Think of E=mc2 as an example.

Matt Keller's book is simple in the second sense. He believes that teachability is the key to everything. "Without teachability," he writes, "you and I will never reach our full potential or leave a mark the world as we all desire to do." He doesn't discount the roles intelligence, hard work, or native genius play in achieving success, by the way. But he writes that "all the right stuff minus teachability equals the loss of tremendous potential."

What is teachability? Keller borrows Roger Seip's formula from Train Your Brain for Success: "Desire to learn times willingness to change equals our level of teachability." If you desire to learn but are not willing to change, or if you are willing to change but don't desire to learn, you have a low "teachability index." The goal is to have a high one.

After defining teachability, Keller outlines common roadblocks to teachability: pride, fear, insecurity, pain, and pace. Keller uses the negative example of King Saul from the Old Testament to illustrate these roadblocks. He then goes on to use the apostle Paul from the New Testament to illustrate positive characteristics of teachability:

  • insatiable desire to learn and grow
  • appropriate view of success
  • openness to feedback
  • flexible approach to life
  • ability to handle failure well

Keller concludes his book with guidance about how to develop a lifestyle of teachability. "Teachability is not something we can develop from a single session or a simple intention. It doesn't develop in spurts and starts." Rather, he writes: "True teachability is a lifestyle-and it takes practice."

Matt Keller is a Christian pastor and leadership coach, so most of his readers will be fellow pastors or leaders of parachurch ministries. Though his book refers to the Bible, Christian business professionals can safely use it as a coaching tool in secular environments too.

The Key to Everything is a short, easy read. Don't let those characteristics fool you, however. Keller is on to something. Whether teachability is the key to everything, I still can't say. But it is the key to quite a lot. As Proverbs 4:7 puts it: "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost you all, get understanding."

Read The Key to Everything in hardcover or Kindle.


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