I Was a Lousy Student

I met my wife in 11th grade; we were in Trigonometry together. I’m glad I was there; however, I shouldn’t have been. It became obvious fairly quickly that I was in over my head. Our first ever conversation occurred while looking at the results of our first test. I made a 16… Donna made a 96! She asked me how I got a 16 – I said, “I think they gave me points for getting my name right.”

Thankfully, she took pity on me that day. This year we celebrated our 31st year of marriage. Obviously, many things have changed over the years, but perhaps nothing more dramatic than the way I view learning. In 11th grade, I was a lousy student. Today, I believe my success as a leader hinges on my ability to learn and grow.
I’ve been asked on several occasions to share the greatest insight in my career – there have been many. However, one of them is:

Your capacity to grow determines your capacity to lead.

That’s the big idea behind a book I wrote with Ken Blanchard, Great Leaders Grow. The best leaders are students for life.
My encouragement to you is to become predatory regarding learning. Learn all you can about yourself, your people, your company, your industry, your competitors and your chosen profession – for many of you, leadership is your job. Learn all you can.
Here’s a great question to start asking your colleagues: What are you learning? After they respond, they’ll often ask you the same question.  What benefits might you enjoy if conversations about learning became the norm in your culture?
My commitment is to continue to share what I’m learning on my leadership journey. If I share what I’m learning, will you? Who are the emerging leaders you want to serve? How can you help them learn? Every time you help another leader learn and grow, you’re putting another brick in the monument known as your legacy.
Today, unlike 40 years ago, I am a fully engaged student. If you’re a leader, I hope you would say the same. By the way, Donna is in charge of our checkbook – I could never get the numbers to add up.[GLS_Shield]
Have you made the decision to be a student for life?

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9 years ago

To answer your question, YES!
Like you, my grades hovered between mediocre and lousy. My educational opportunities were like pearls and I trampled them like swine.
I'm grateful to God for his grace; I learned to steward my dollars and my time, and when I finally completed my degree, not only had my grades improved but I was on a trajectory of learning that continues today.
Last year I immersed myself in study of interviewing and hiring best practices, and rebuilt our interviewing model from ground up. It looks a lot like your operator selection process now.
This year, my wife and I are finishing a Whole30 challenge as we learn about food, and next I hope to immerse myself in specific ways to create excellent customer experiences- with a plan to implement new systems before the end of Q2.
I've found that constant learning yields new and constant opportunities for creativity, initiative and change. I suspect this is so fulfilling because we bear the image of God- who created for His own pleasure.
My thoughts.... Thanks again for your work! My team is better because of it.

Mark Deterding

9 years ago

Another outstanding post. I couldn't agree with you more on the importance of self-development. A passion in this area is such a key attribute of a servant leader. You, Ken Blanchard, and Michael Hyatt have had a profound impact on my life and my passion for learning.
Thank you so much for your efforts in the area of advancing servant leadership. You are doing extremely significant work, that is having an amazing impact way beyond your understanding!
Keep up the great work!
In gratitude,
Mark Deterding


9 years ago

Thanks for you encouraging words! As you know, it is a daily challenge. I'm glad to be on the journey with you! Mark

C Buckland

9 years ago

This is a great story to illustrate the need to keep learning. Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us.


9 years ago

Thanks for the encouragement! Mark

Five Blogs – 29 January 2014 | 5blogs

9 years ago

[…] I was a lousy student Written by: Mark Miller […]

Links for Leaders: 2/28/14 | Do You Really Believe?

9 years ago

[…] Not all leaders were straight A students or graduated magna cum laude. Many weren’t very good students at all. But all good leaders demonstrate a singular trait: the capacity and desire to learn and grow. […]


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