In the March 2016 Entrepreneur Magazine, there was a great article about 22 Must-Have Leadership Qualities. I found the article to be so powerful that I am spending a few minutes each week thinking about how I can improve these leadership skills myself. Like most things in life, you get what you focus your attention on. Here is #12 – Open Mindedness.
“One of the biggest myths is that good business leaders are great visionaries with dogged determination to stick to their goals no matter what. It’s nonsense. The truth is, leaders need to keep an open mind while being flexible and adjust if necessary. When in the startup phase of a company, planing is highly overrated and goals are not static. Your commitment should be to invest, develop and maintain great relationships.”Daymon John, CEO Shark Branding and FUBU
Keeping an open mind is harder than it sounds. Especially for Type A, hard-driving executives that already have a plan and a certain way of doing things in mind. It’s also increasingly difficult to remain open-minded as we get older and become more set in our ways. As we age, it’s a natural tendency to want to socialize with other people that are just like you. However, this sometimes moves us in the direction of only socializing with and having friends that share common opinions and world views. This is one of the reasons why arguments on social media between “friends” sometimes grows out of control as one or both of the parties to the discussion can’t grasp how the other person can’t see their point of view. Without being able to remain open minded we become narrow-minded and unaccepting of any ideas that are new or differ from our current beliefs.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the political arena where minds are often closed and the willingness to comprise is pushed to the side without much of an afterthought. I contend that one of the reasons why there is so much dislike of politics and politicians is that they are seen by the public as being closed-minded and unwilling to see the validity or to even hear opposing views and arguments to their ideology. They have a one-sided view of the world and any opposing view or opinion can’t be considered, let alone given a minute to be discussed. The opposing parties’ viewpoint is simply wrong and shouldn’t even be considered or discussed in further detail. This isn’t civil discourse. This is no discourse at all. And this is one reason why a two-party political system has failed our country and left the majority of voters to be pawns in a chess game played by the political elitist.
3 Ways to Become More Open Minded
Keeping an open mind and learning more about a situation or problem and taking in various opinions before coming up with a decision doesn’t make a leader weak or unprincipled. What it does make them is stronger, better informed and more capable of making sound decisions. After all, at the very core, a leaders’ job is to make smart decisions. Many of these tough decisions are based on limited amounts of information and need to take into consideration various points of view to come up with the best course of action.
While thinking about this topic of becoming more open-minded, there were 3 points that I have always used to make sure I’m being open-minded and seeing the various aspects of a given situation.
1. Seek First To Understand
Step 5 in Steven Covey’s masterpiece on personal performance, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This principle applied 25 years ago when first written and still rings true today.
Regardless of what the problem or situation is, if you don’t understand the entire problem it’s difficult to come up with a holistic solution. Having a sound grasp of the situation before making a decision is critical, especially with problems that are multi-faceted and have multiple variables that impact the situation. Without understanding the interplay between these many sides of the issues a sound decision can’t be made.
2.Listen to Opposing Views
Just because someone gives you their opinion, doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Listening to the views of multiple stakeholders and hearing different positions on a given problem makes you more informed about the issues. And just because someone gives you their opinion or point of view on a topic, this doesn’t mean you have to adopt their philosophy or convert to their ideas.
Aristotle has been credited for the saying, “It’s the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This was as true thousands of years ago as it is today. As part of our learning about a topic, we will hear many ideas but that doesn’t mean that by simply learning about others opinions we have to embrace them.
3. Seek the Best Solution
With many opposing points of view and considerations to be factored in, most answers to life’s problems are not winner take all. There doesn’t have to be a loser in every situation if you can keep an open mind and understand everyone’s point of view. It sometimes takes a little more time, more digging and deeper discussion to get to this point, but it’s worth the time and effort to do if a true solution is sought. This applies to any decisions that leaders make. Finding the best solution only comes with an understanding of various viewpoints and a solid grasp of the problem. Without an open mind and input from others, decisions are made in a vacuum and often made in haste. Confident leaders can listen and understand the points that an adversary or advisor is trying to make and then make an educated decision based on facts and not just innuendo.
The worst thing a leader can do is to rely on their own judgement as the sole determinant of their decision. Intelligent leaders understand their own weaknesses and know how to surround themselves with talented people that can help them make better decisions. If you can keep an open mind, your decision process will benefit from it and you will find yourself making more educated and sound decisions.