Building the teacher inside

by | Feb 12, 2021

Just a few years ago, after taking a sabatical to study Fine Art, I was in conversation with a senior AFL coach struggling with the weight of leadership and all its expectations.

It was a familiar conversation, bringing up many almost repressed memories of my personal struggles as a leader, and the feeling I had nowhere to turn.

I then had a thought:

“Can I create the leadership learning experience I yearned for in my 25 years as a CEO in high-performance sport.”

Hence designCEO.

As a leader, I was forever searching for learning and personal development experiences to match the expectations of the role.

It was more than simply filling a void. It came from a deep sense of purpose, and honour as I sincerely believed that the core responsibility of leaders is to design, motivate, nourish and lead an environment that:

  • Enables people to thrive. Have the experiences they yearn.
  • Achieve the organisation’s purpose, mission…however you seek to define ambition in the context of the team or organisation.

As a CEO, I failed often. I offer these experiences as matter of fact examples of how I came up short, even as it relates to the very thing I now teach.

Setbacks are an integral part of changing course, and leaders recognise their mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn, as well as display their humility.

Perhaps the most potent form of feedback and feedback is central to learning.

Leadership demands that you grow and adapt. You are building personal capability to match the demands of the role as well as your personal or collective ambition.

The designCEO offering builds on the simple concept:

“Leaders must drive their own learning. No one is going to do their learning for them.”

So how do we learn?


Building the teacher inside.

Firstly, a warning. When you are committed to learning, there is always a sense that you are somehow ‘out of date’.

I was listening to friend and mentor Neil Craig recently on “The Great Coaches Podcast”, where he said, “The older you get, the more you realise you don’t know, and the more you want to know”. He described being driven by the “fear of missing out on a good idea”.

The “Teacher Inside” model is from my work with leaders; the idea being there are four ways we learn.

Make them deliberate.

Add them to your ‘to-do’ list.

They are:

  • Put yourself in conversation with wise people. People who have been “In the Arena”. Generous individuals who have gone deep, who like to share ideas rather than advice. They have done a lot of the knowledge filtering for you, aligned it to their lived experience and are happy to share without judgement. Seek to add diversity – people who are different to you.
  • Nourish the brain. The books we read, the podcasts we listen to. Be discerning. Then slow down to reflect, write notes and ask how you might apply it to your life, or share with another. It is not what we learn today; it is what we will teach tomorrow. Leader as teacher. “Borrow freely, apply uniquely” is another mantra.
  • Make space for insight. Slow the mind. A practice of meditation perhaps, which I highly recommend. For me, writing is the key. I journal most mornings and try and write something like this every week or so. I call it ‘hard-fun’, digging deep into your thinking, making sense of your learnings and observations. Everything I teach comes from this process.
  • Create feedback loops. Go looking for it. Ask people with insight and integrity who care for you and can back it up “How do you reckon I’m going?” Also, try new things. Be open-minded. A new endeavour. Experiment, find out if that new idea might work for you. While you are at it, strategically quit something you are doing now that is likely getting in the road.

Find the ‘Teacher Inside’.


“If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. If you have constructive feedback you want to give me, I want it… But if you’re in the cheap seats, not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m in no way interested in your feedback.”

Brene Brown


Looking for a good mediation app?

I use an Australian app called “1 Giant Mind” with Jonni Pollard, recommended to me by Natasha Mason, who I thank. Now meditating for 20 minutes each morning.

…and a timeless song lyric:

Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues


Johnny’s in the basement

Mixing up the medicine

I’m on the pavement

Thinking about the government

The man in a trench coat

Badge out, laid off

Says he’s got a bad cough

Wants to get it paid off

Look out, kid

It’s somethin’ you did

God knows when

But you’re doin’ it again

One of my favourite bands of the moment is the Lumineers. Their version is great. I challenge you not to jig a little when you watch or listen to this:



Cameron Schwab
CEO & Founder


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I have no doubt it was these setbacks, personally challenging and heartbreaking at the time, that created the path to the work I now do.

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