In the dynamic world of leadership, open-mindedness stands as a cornerstone trait, pivotal in navigating the ever-evolving landscape of business and innovation. Open-minded leaders, those who embrace diverse perspectives and are receptive to new ideas, often outshine their counterparts in fostering a culture of creativity and inclusivity. This blog post delves into the characteristics and methods of open-minded leadership, offering insights into how this trait can be cultivated and harnessed for organisational success.
Open-mindedness, from a neuroscience perspective, can be likened to mental flexibility. The brain can adapt its thinking in response to new information, akin to the plasticity of a young sapling bending in the wind. This mental agility allows leaders to challenge their assumptions, consider alternative viewpoints, and make informed decisions that drive progress.
Historical examples of open-minded leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., demonstrate the power of this trait. Their willingness to listen, learn, and adapt their strategies in response to new information and diverse perspectives was instrumental in their success. In the modern business world, open-minded leadership is equally crucial. It fosters an environment where innovation thrives, and diverse perspectives are valued.
In this post, we’ll explore the meaning of open-minded leadership, its importance in today’s business environment, and practical ways to cultivate this trait. We’ll also delve into the neuroscience behind open-mindedness, providing a unique lens through which to understand this critical leadership quality.
The Neuroscience of Open-mindedness
While there may not be recent research papers specifically on the neuroscience of open-mindedness, we can still discuss the topic based on established neuroscience principles and research on related topics such as cognitive flexibility and neuroplasticity.
Open-mindedness, at its core, is a form of cognitive flexibility. It’s the ability to adjust one’s thinking in response to new information, to entertain diverse perspectives, and to adapt to changing circumstances. This cognitive flexibility is deeply rooted in the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, the ability to rewire and form new neural connections throughout life.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s remarkable ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This capacity allows us to learn from our experiences and adapt to new situations. When we’re open-minded, we’re leveraging our brain’s neuroplasticity to modify our perceptions and understandings in light of new information.
The prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, problem-solving, and adaptability, plays a crucial role in open-mindedness. This area of the brain helps us to evaluate new information, consider its implications, and adjust our beliefs or actions accordingly. When we’re open-minded, we’re actively engaging our prefrontal cortex to integrate new information into our existing knowledge and perspectives.
Moreover, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a part of the brain involved in cognitive control and conflict resolution, is also believed to be involved in open-mindedness. The ACC helps us to detect inconsistencies between our existing beliefs and new information, prompting us to resolve this conflict by adjusting our beliefs.
In conclusion, open-mindedness is deeply rooted in our brain’s capacity for cognitive flexibility and neuroplasticity. By understanding the neuroscience behind open-mindedness, leaders can better appreciate the importance of this trait and strive to cultivate it in themselves and their teams.
An Open-minded leader
I remember many years ago listening to a fascinating work colleague, who professed to understand how hypnotists worked. He explained how they 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. His role wasn’t that of a leader, but he was someone who was influential and respected. When he spoke, everyone listened. His way of thinking set him out from the rest. He was a thought leader and you could say 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 characteristics of an open-minded leader are also the road to leading from your higher self and so are worthy signposts on the journey. Here’s what I think they are:
1. 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 end, guess what our conversation and focus are 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?
As a teenager, I had 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. Something clicked in my brain at that moment I realised I had taken on board the thought system of my parents. My parents 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 conclude, you are open to finding out more. Exploring and actively being open and curious is the key here.
3. 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. If judgment is suspended then readers can be helped to see the situation from many different points of view. Political leaders are very good at this!
4. Acceptance and respect for other’s 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 businesswoman whose 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 at an early age, 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.
5. 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. Open-minded people 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 a 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. Indecision can sometimes be assumed when someone is accepting and curious about the world around them. It generally means an open-minded leader can be more decisive. This is because they understand any decision is simply based on what they know at that moment, Therefore, an open-minded leader cannot make a wrong decision. Just one that works, or doesn’t.
Practising open-mindedness isn’t universal a characteristic we are born with. Nonetheless, to be effective leaders and managers we have to develop the crucial habits of self-reflection, observation, challenging beliefs and questioning perceptions. For many of us, until something in life looms up to challenge us, we simply don’t make the effort, or we just don’t realise we should be questioning our habitual paradigms.
Some of the pitfalls of not practising open-mindedness are:
- Having a Groundhog Day experience
- Seeing other people grow away from you
- Staying in a miserable situation/state/relationship
- Giving up on dreams
- Feeling like a victim
- Limiting other people
- Stereotyping situations or people
- Coming to faulty conclusions
Within my coaching practice, I regularly see clients or people they work with struggle to overcome fixed beliefs, values, judgments or even wishful thinking that get in the way of changing or moving forward.
Why we are stuck
The most common reason people struggle is that it sometimes feels painful to have to acknowledge there is another way to look at things. People like to feel they are right. And finally, they avoid the possibility of backtracking to painful situations which formed their limiting beliefs.
Byron Katie has a brilliant method which demonstrates how we can turn around beliefs and ways of thinking to find relief from uncomfortable or painful emotions. You can find out more about Byron Katie’s work in her series of books which started with. “Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life”
The Golden Triangle
There is a simple formula which can help the process of practising open-mindedness, and called “The golden triangle”. In essence, this involves looking at tricky situations in 3 ways. From your perspective, the perspective of others, and then as an observer
The role of the observer is essential in this process because it is in the observer’s role when it is possible to remain neutral, detached and to see the bigger picture.
The possibilities are endless. When you come to make decisions, using the perspective of an observer you come to realize:
For every argument “for”, there is a counterargument
Beliefs, thoughts, perceptions and ideas are fluid and flexible
Values can change depending on different situations
Stories and myths are helpful to unravel paradigms or thought patterns
This is where you can indulge in looking at things with your own unique experiences and situations. You examine your own beliefs, preferences and desires. You can choose the best course given your unique self. By acknowledging your unique perspective, you free yourself up to let this go if needed. Alternatively, you might decide to go with your preference or situation having examined all perspectives.
Putting oneself into other shoes is one of the most loving and powerful acts you can carry out. Understanding where someone is coming from means you can consider other points of view. It means you can understand and accept another person’s perspective.
We all need to form paradigms, beliefs and ways of thinking and making decisions which work for us, we couldn’t get through our daily lives without such a structure. But if that structure isn’t working for you, then it’s time to visit the Golden Triangle and practice your muscle of open-mindedness.
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I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.
I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.