I remember when I was still in my teens listening to a most fascinating work colleague, who professed to understand how hypnotists managed to tap into someone’s subconscious and get it to take control. In the next breath he would describe his insights gained in different cultures which he had acquired in his Navy days. His range of conversation was diverse, lively and knowledgeable. I remember feeling quite boring and uninteresting comparing myself with him, (which was a pre-occupation of mine as a teen). His role wasn’t officially as a leader, but he was well respected and one of those people who you know is influential in the team, he would have certainly qualified as an open-minded leader.
He had that charismatic quality, I always admire, which in those days I called open-mindedness. Open-mindedness for me was cool in those days, and still is. I think the quality of an open-minded leader is an underrated and misunderstood characteristic. What this quality means for me is:
A thirst for learning
Of course there are many types of learning: Taking in information through reading, observing, or my favourite which is experiential learning. I remember reading somewhere that the most honest sentence we can utter is “I don’t know”. I have come to realise that true wisdom stems from exactly that, an open-minded leader has that wisdom. It is when we are at our most convinced that we have something new to learn. Also an open-minded leader understands that the learning journey never stops. All we can be certain of is what we have learned so far. There is a practical aspect to this too. Our minds are a little like our bodies in that what we put in, is what we get out usually. If we sit and watch soaps or low-grade TV for hours on ends, guess what our conversation and focus is about?
Just when did our natural curiosity about the world disappear? My grandson Charlie is just starting to ask “Why?” Like most children he is curious and wants to understand what surrounds him. But for the majority of us, our natural curiosity stops at a certain point. Why is that? Is it because our minds are made up for us by concrete explanations from our parents or teachers? I remember at 16 having some extremely rigid views about our social system. I mentioned my limited views to a friend one day and she explained to me how narrow my thinking was and bluntly showed me the error of my ways. I realised in that moment I had taken on board the thought system of my parents, who had come from a completely different experience and generation from me. How often do we do that? Open-mindedness means that instead of believing everything you are told, you find out yourself. Even when you draw conclusions, you are open to finding out more. Exploring and actively being open and curious is the key here.
An ability to see things easily from different perspectives
In the world of the open-minded leader there is only “what works” and “what doesn’t work”, rather than what is right or wrong. We live in a world of both entrenched and enlightened values at times. Part of being open-minded is being able to see another’s point of view and evaluating not whether it is right or wrong, but whether it works or not. There is also the phenomenon of paradox working here, so being able to realise two opposing truths can be real. Take Orwell’s statement for example. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” This statement can be viewed from a myriad of perspectives which if judgment is suspended can help the reader to see the situation from many different points of view. Political leaders are very good at this!
An acceptance and respect for others beliefs and choices
This can be a tough one. I remember talking to a professional who was coaching a young entrepreneur who wanted to get into the modelling world. An A grade student, with a great start-up business, and supportive parents; a glittering future was about to be thrown away by this young business woman who’s main desire in life was to enter the fickle and superficial world of modelling; or so my friend described. But the truth is we never know what is good for someone else, or what path is right for someone. I married very young and inevitably it ended in divorce. But was it inevitable? When my daughter decided to buy a house at age 19 with her first and only boyfriend, I was aghast. Luckily I was wise enough by then to understand that just because things went wrong for me, didn’t mean it would for her. All I said to her was, “Go and try it, but if it doesn’t work, then you can come home” She never has. We celebrated her wedding at the weekend after 9 years of being together. It is the same in the workplace. An open-minded leader will honour other people and the choices they make.
An awareness that their own and others beliefs and filters can be limiting
Our experience in this world is made up through a filter of our beliefs, ideas, thought patterns and emotions. Part of respecting the perspective of others shows a good understanding of this. There is a further element to this for open-minded people in that they realise; not only does everyone come from a different perspective, but it is likely that any perspective is limited. If you’ve ever had to give up a limited belief, without having another belief in place it can feel quite frightening. To be able to form new beliefs, you have to be able to use your imagination, and sometimes going from a limiting belief to a more expanded belief takes a leap of faith. At work this can be a problem whenever change happens, for example when a business is trying to reinvent or rebrand itself. An open-minded leader will understand that they have to instil that faith in their employees if the changes are going to be timely and effective.
Being an open-minded leader doesn’t mean being indecisive, which can sometimes be assumed when someone is accepting and curious of the world around them. In fact, it generally means an open-minded leader can be more decisive because they understand any decision is simply based on what they know in that moment, and therefore an open-minded leader cannot make a wrong decision. Just one that works, or doesn’t.