Leadership Learning: Are We Out to Learn or to Prove?

The world of science has shown us the value of proving over assuming especially where it impacts human life. Scientific discovery has also shown that learning leads to proving. Consider the accidental discoveries from penicillin to microwaves.

So what does this have to do with leadership? A great deal. How much do we as leaders miss when we are out to prove rather than to discover and learn?

Leadership Learning: Image is balancing on high wire

Leadership Learning, Find the Balance between Learning and Proving Image: OrangeBrompton

Leadership Learning

Leadership learning delivers many advantages:

  1. It opens doors to possibilities we couldn’t possibly foresee
  2. Leadership learning engages employees’ learning
  3. It develops the next generation of leaders by combining their talent and our experience for the unknown demands of future business

Proving on the other hand …

  1. Protects and ensures. Think of child-proof caps, tamper-proof locks, proofing before publishing.
  2. Sets high standards. Proving grounds are where ideas are tested for accuracy, impact, and strength.
  3. Gives others a safe zone to consider and accept new ideas. Investors often want a proof of concept before investing in a new idea.

There is value in leadership learning and proving if we find the balance.

We Lose the Balance When:

  • Previous experience creates insecurity. Did a bad mentor or previous boss tell you that success was all about proving yourself every day? If you are living this, you may overlook leadership learning and focus mostly on proving.
  • Switching work cultures. For example, if you worked in a clinical environment where lack of proof could kill people, you might misapply that standard to a non-clinical environment where lack of learning kills innovation. Learn to balance both learning and proving.
  • Fear and perfectionism reign supreme. When fear or perfectionism are in control of a culture or a leaders’ actions, leadership learning, employee engagement, and innovation will suffer. The safe feeling of proving everything however will block dynamic change needed for success.

Finding the Balance Between Leadership Learning & Proving

  • Self-awareness. Ask ourselves which side do I naturally embrace — learning or proving?
  • Understanding. List out why that’s the preference.
  • Feedback. Get examples from those we lead on the negative impact of our preference. Where has too much proving caused trouble? When has leadership learning and not enough proving created trouble? Examples provide help facts triumph over emotion.
  • New pathway. In collaboration with those you lead, chart a new path to balance learning and proving.

Demanding proof too early slams the door of discovery shut. Refusing to prove can discredit innovation with the legacy of a just another dumb idea.

Leadership learning opens the door. Proving ensures that what comes through it is not harmful. When we find the balance between learning and proving, we chart a path to success.

How have you found balance between learning & proving?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
2 Easy Leadership Fixes for Employee Engagement Breakthroughs
People Skills Learning: Why We Label People & How to Stop

©2017 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.


OFFER: Learn to quickly spot & adapt!

Let’s turn interaction obstacles into business success in leadership, teamwork, and customer service experience.

8 Responses to “Leadership Learning: Are We Out to Learn or to Prove?”

  1. Tara Alemany says:

    Hi, Kate.

    I know I, personally, have always leaned more towards the side of Learning, but I’ve learned the value of Proving what I’ve learned by writing about it and sharing it with my own community. Oftentimes, when I’m learning something new, I’m only a few steps head of those I’m teaching. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows their questions and comments to shape the direction of my Learning, making my input more valuable to them.

    Thanks for sharing this post, and initiating this conversation!

    – Tara

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Great personal insight Tara. Most everyone has a natural preference. Greatness, as Dan says (above), lies in keeping that delicate balance as deftly as a cat.

      Many thanks for your contribution to this discussion.

  2. Kate

    You’ve identified another very important and sensitive balance point in the work of creating a powerful culture. Both learning and proving are challenging in their own unique ways and your suggestion this is often a matter of preference is indisputable for both individuals and for organizations. The really great leaders I’ve known seem always to be creating and holding that balance — and tweaking it. Like a cat that bats the ball of string from one paw to the other and back again, it’s a matter of very engaging and useful play. How cool can our inventions, services, and decisions be? How truly valuable and practical can they be, and can we prove it? Evidence and inspiration must come together in all that is produced. The language and motives leadership must be big enough to embrace both intuition and discovery, and the proof they are not just a pipe dream. And as you say, go get the feedback if you are unsure where your preference — or its impact — lies. Excellent.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      And once again Dan, the images you offer take us deeper into this awareness. In one sentence you sum up the definition of balance: “Evidence and inspiration must come together in all that is produced.”

      Lean to heavily to one side or the other — and the cat drops the ball of string!

      Warmest thanks,

  3. Jon Mertz says:


    What an important distinction! Proving versus Discovering. Choosing the latter approach opens doors for creativity, idea acceptance, and improved relationships. Proving is a more defensive posture, closing doors and, unfortunately, minds. This shift in approach opens up the opportunity to lead in a much better way.

    Thank you for highlighting this difference.


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Jon,
      So pleased you weighed in on this discussion. I have always seen the distinction — first as an employee with a leader who wanted everything proven before we made any moves and for many years now as a consultant.

      There is a time and place for both. Most often — start in learning mode and bring in proving at critical points when appropriate.

      Thanks and regards,

  4. Khalid says:

    Wonderful post idea as usual Kate?

    I can directly relate to that because I just moved to a new place leading marketing group (from IT) so there so much to learn but it’s time for me to prove myself in a new place with new management expectations. I’ve always wanted to prove myself but I have so much to learn in the new place. Your comparison between both leadership takes made me feel better. I just need to relax now by getting more into learning than proving to balance things up.

    Thanks for the enlightenment


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Such a great personal story Khalid. Once again your willingness to share your journey expands the discussion and helps all who read your comments.
      Many thanks,

KateNasser on Facebook KateNasser Blog KateNasser on Twitter KateNasser on LinkedIn KateNasser on Pinterest