How mindsets make big differences: knower vs. learner

The mindset shift that helps you to be more effective as a person and leader

Different mindsets

I want to share some thoughts with you on mindsets that drive our behaviour especially in relation to how we deal with the external world. This is important for leaders but actually it is important for everyone who has to deal with other people, be it in business or in private life.

We all have our mental filters and form our own picture of what is going on. What we sometimes forget is that it is our perception of the reality and not necessarily the same as how others see it. Fred Kofman uses two mindsets in this context in his book Conscious Business: the Knower and the Learner mindset.

knower vs learner

Knower and Learner mindsets

By describing some elements for these two mindsets, I take the risk of simplifying things and dividing people in two camps. However, it is helpful for our thinking about and understanding of our own behaviour. In the table below, I capture the most important elements and specific behaviours for both mindsets.

[su_table responsive=”yes”]

Knower Learner
Values … knowledge & reputation

  • makes no mistakes
  • defensive (claims to know how things are or ought to be)
… being effective and learning

  • admits mistakes
  • not knowing is not a problem
Self esteem … is coupled to “being right”

  • hides doubts
  • arguing (wants to win)
… is coupled to learning

  • open about doubts
  • curious (wants to understand other points of view)
Attitude … rather arrogant

  • opinions are presented as facts
… rather humble and/or serving

  • offers opinions/views as options
Approach I am what I think

  • disagreements are personal attacks
I reflect

  • disagreements are learning opportunities


Is a Knower or Learner mindset better?

Although there is no right or wrong regarding these two mindsets, I can imagine that depending on the context, one of the two results in behaviour that is more effective for that context. Let me translate this to leadership styles.

If the context requires a directive leadership style, the Knower attitude results in behaviour that can be very effective in that context assuming that you have sufficient experience and insight in the specific situation. If the latter is not the case, the Knower mindset and behaviour is ineffective and can, in the worst case, be counterproductive or damaging. When a more supportive and coaching leadership style is required, for instance in the context of self-steering teams, the Learner mindset results in behaviour that strengthens the supportive and coaching style. So, there is no right or wrong, it depends -as usual- on the situation.

Shifting from Knower to Learner mindset

I would like to leave you with a question: are you a Knower or a Learner? Is your preference matching with what is needed to be effective? Is it perhaps time to shift more into the direction of a Learner to increase your effectiveness in both your business and private context? Although not easy, this is possible and can be compared to buying new glasses: turn on new glasses to get a different perspective!

In Con-TACT we have developed a self-directed e-module helping people to do exactly this: shifting the attitude from a Knower to a Learner. This module is part of our virtual leadership development programme and today we give you free access to it!

All you have to do is register through the link below to receive the access code to our campus and this e-module.


Alternatively, you can [su_button url=”” target=”blank” style=”3d” background=”#eeeeee” color=”#23A2c2″ icon=”icon: pencil”]contact me direct[/su_button] for a detailed and more personal discussion.

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