A Leader’s Open MindednessOct 20, 2023
Picture this: you’re sitting in a business meeting watching proceedings. The senior multi-cultural manager attendees are meeting to resolve a major issue.
The leader, who has been in the industry and CEO of the organisation for a couple of decades, is chairing the meeting.
There is general agreement about the nature of the issue they’re there to resolve, but attendees have a variety of views about its resolution.
They decide to go around the room with everyone stating what they think the organisation should do.
As each person states their view, the leader openly discounts it and says, “that won’t work – next!”
Such a situation is not uncommon – especially with leaders who have been in the role for a long time (but it’s also evident in many ego-driven leaders.)
One way to interpret this situation is to say that the leader was closed-minded to new ideas and therefore rejected the suggestions offered. Maybe.
Such closed-mindedness might be a product of a leader’s brain hemisphere dominance. If the leader has strong right-brain preferences, then they can handle the inevitable ambiguities that might arise from multiple viewpoints or interpretations of facts.
On the other hand, if the leader shows strong left-brain preferences, then their ability to handle ambiguity might be compromised which might suggest a pursuit of clarity and clear resolution. When you add the multi-cultural context, then this adds to the complexity and potential ambiguity. Research appears to confirm that belief discrepant closed-minded people have less tolerance for cognitive inconsistency.
Another possible interpretation is to suggest that because the leader had been in the role for decades, the leader knew what would work and what wouldn’t. In fact (it could be argued) that the leader was open-minded because of the request for suggestions but rejected the unhelpful suggestions. He was open-minded, just not very diplomatic.
Another interpretation of the situation is to argue that “it doesn’t matter” what the leader was, the situation was poorly handled.
When we speak of open-mindedness, we refer to the characteristic of “being willing to consider ideas and opinions that are new or different to our own.”
To help bring understanding to the concept, other terms that might resonate include understanding, tolerance, acceptance, broad-mindedness, impartiality, and receptiveness.
Open-mindedness is an invaluable characteristic of successful leadership: otherwise, leaders’ ability to deal with situations, issues, and opportunities are limited to their own knowledge, skills, and experience – and no one knows everything about anything.
No leader, being human, thinks and acts in a vacuum devoid of their own thoughts, experiences, and knowledge. The effectiveness of their leadership is the way they effectively apply those thoughts, experiences, and knowledge to whatever situation they encounter in order to satisfy the objectives they are pursuing. That’s leadership.
Being open-minded implies that the person is aware that they don’t know everything about an issue, and they are prepared (i.e., open) to consider other information that will better inform them about that issue. It is also common that such an open-minded leader doesn’t care where such useful input and alternative viewpoints come from – as long as it contributes to better understanding.
It is common to see the terms “open-mindedness” and “critical thinking” being used interchangeably.
Critical thinking generally means that one develops an emotional, subjective, and intellectual space between yourself and ideas, regardless of whether those ideas are yours or someone else’s. One does this to better determine truth, fact, validity, and appropriateness.
Fundamental to critical thinking are logic, science, evidence, scepticism, reason, and rationality. Although critical thinking can’t guarantee the correct outcome, it does improve the odds.
The difference between the two is straight-forward: Being open-minded enables the person to be receptive to the ideas and suggestions of others. Thinking critically enables the person to assess the veracity of that which the person is receptive to consider.
Merely being open-minded doesn’t imply that one chooses the best option presented – a leader might be open to another person’s views but chooses to do what that leader’s favourite staff member said – regardless of its worthiness. That’s why open-mindedness and critical thinking are a necessary duo of skills that must reside together.
Be aware though, that there is a dimension of this termed “myside bias” where a person will be open to multiple view but will choose the one that reinforces their own view. It is felt that most people show such bias, but some show it more blatantly than others.
It is believed that leaders who are open-minded enjoy being:
- Persuaded less by singular events and more resistant to suggestions and manipulation by others.
- Better able to predict the behaviour of others.
- Better able to see more clearly the risks, problems, and barriers associated with the ideas and input of others.
- Gain more insight into how others think and process issues.
- The opinion of others often opens you to new experiences.
- Personal growth through the broadening of your mind.
- By opening yourself to the ideas of others, one is likely to enhance one’s own sense of optimism by sharing of solutions that you hadn’t considered.
- Pushing of your personal boundaries by learning new things.
- More able to cope with uncertainty.
- Leaders who are or try to be open-minded need to be aware of three traps that affect the benefits of open-mindedness.
- Being selective to what the leader exposes themselves to – being unwilling to consider what they know as opposite views. As an example, only reading the newspapers or watching the TV shows that know support their views.
- Giving more weight to the opinions or views that come early compared to those that come later.
- Listening to all views but being more accepting of the views of others when those views reinforce what the leader already thinks.
- There are some other factors that affect open-mindedness.
- A leader’s personality will affect their willingness to consider new ideas, suggestions, and experiences that may trigger self-reflection.
- The extent of the leader’s expertise may affect the extent that they open themselves to other opinions. Some are of the view that the more the leader thinks that they are expert in an area, the more they can be expected to be dogmatic and close themselves to the opinions of others. Although this might apply to some, it probably doesn’t apply to all.
- As previously mentioned, a preference and comfort with right brain versus left brain matters may affect one’s openness and comfort with ambiguity.
The things that help open-mindedness:
- Avoid making decisions under time pressure – one’s gut reactions aren’t always accurate. Give yourself time to reflect and apply critical thinking.
- Seek the opinion of others – don’t assume that you know everything about the issue. Others have different perspectives and experience that may help you.
- Both-sides arguments – think through both (or more) sides of an issues. What are the pros and cons of each?
- Consider the evidence and its source – is it strong enough and convincing enough? Is it logical and rational?
- Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone – only by doing so can one explore where one has not travelled.
- Ask questions of new ideas – as in this way, you improve your understanding and are better able to make an informed decision. Allow enough time to explore the idea.
- Put yourself in the other’s shoes – image the context of those promoting other views to better understand their motivation for making their proposal – demonstrate your empathy.
- Reflect on your views or opinions – try to understand where you got your current views and opinions – what were the triggers for you to think about an issue in a particular way? Have circumstances changed that enable you to be receptive to a different view?
- Fight your Confirmation Bias – read, watch, or listen to alternate views and understand their logic – regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.
- Multiple sources of your own arguments – is your view validated by multiple sources? If not, why not? Be prepared to change your view when the evidence supports the change.
- Be intellectually humble and modest – the right answer probably has nothing to do with your ego – so don’t let it interfere.
If you have or suspect negative responses to these issues, then your leadership or the leadership of others may be compromised.
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We’re proud to advise that the authors of this piece are Advisory & Mentoring directors.