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Being Open to New Ideas

Innovative and highly receptive of different approaches to completing tasks

One trap into which many leaders fall is the belief that they have the best ideas and ways forward. Others fall victim to their own need to appear strong and determined, even when they don’t know the best course. Some of the more hard-headed among them confuse stubbornness with strength. Other times, a leader simply may not know how to ask for input or help.

To be effective, leaders have to be able to open themselves to new ways of thinking and must constantly look for better ways to do things. Whether learning a routine skill, or mastering a required task or job that is beyond their current skill set (stretch assignment), leaders must be willing to use innovative approaches to solve problems, especially when new thinking or ways of doing things could drastically enhance outcomes.

History is fraught with leaders whose openness to new ideas has changed the status quo and created life-changing innovations that are critical to modern-day life. Wilbur and Orville Wright are examples of such leaders. These aviation pioneers are credited with achieving the first powered, sustained, and controlled heavier-than-air flight in 1903. Two years later, they built and flew the first two-passenger airplane, which has evolved into what is known as a jetliner today, and a common way of travel.

Steve Jobs is another leader who demonstrated the capacity to innovate. His openness to new ideas gave the world the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and ushered in a new era of miniature smart devices using touch-sensitive technologies. A 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 68% of Americans owned smartphones and 45% of them owned tablet computers.

The ownership of these devices is likely to increase as people around the world become more dependent upon this technology.

As we see in these examples, effective leaders are willing to try new approaches to solving old problems. They are curious and question the status quo in order to uncover new methods for doing things. They never seem satisfied with their current skills and knowledge and are continuously seeking to improve them to enhance their leadership skills.

Remaining open to new ideas allows leaders to generate new ideas by examining issues from different perspectives. This, in turn, places a few requirements upon the leaders. They must first make it possible for new ideas to be voiced; they have to invite people to give their ideas and

constructive feedback, and do so in a way that doesn’t penalize unorthodox thinking (or blunt honesty). Then, once people have had a chance to give leaders their thoughts, the second challenge is remaining intellectually open to the new ideas in those thoughts. If you’re a leader, you must ask yourself: What am I not seeing? What lines of thought have I not completely entertained?

Remaining open to new ideas is challenging because we have to be willing to separate ideas from the context of the person providing them and remain objective. This means that our own ideas, which we all naturally prefer, can no longer rank higher than anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like or trust someone; it doesn’t matter if they rank below you; it doesn’t matter if they’ve been wrong every time before. As someone once said, even a broken clock is right twice a day—and all readings have to be given their merit. You never know who will be right, or who will provide the “missing piece” to a new and successful idea.

When leaders open themselves to new ideas from members of their team, they often find a bottomless gold mine of ideas. Sure, not every suggestion will have merit, but that’s what miners do; they work through the dirt and rocks to find the morsels of substance, then others process and combine them to make beautiful things.

Mistakes and failure are a natural part of the process of being open to new ideas. The Wright brothers and Steve Jobs failed many times before they succeeded—as did many other successful, yet effective leaders throughout history. Michael Jordan, who is among the most accomplished basketball players of all times, earned that distinction due to his ability to learn from his mistakes. He once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Leading Made EasyRemaining open to new ideas will position you to grow and succeed as well!

In summary, a leader who is open to new ideas . . .

  • Uses innovative approaches to solve problems
  • Is constantly looking for better ways to do things
  • Demonstrates the capacity to innovate
  • Generates new ideas by examining issues from different perspectives
  • Questions the status quo to uncover new methods for doing things

The above article is an excerpt from Alonzo’s new book: Leading Made Easy. Download a free leadership assessment.

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