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ARTICLE: How to Lead with an Open Mind

Updated: May 1, 2020 image

Steve Axelrod, advisor and coach to high-level executives on leadership, organizational dynamics and high-risk executive behavior, talks about How to Lead with an Open Mind in a January article from Chief Executive Magazine.

Axelrod describes true open-mindedness as a critical but unappreciated component of CEO leadership, one that hasn't been studied in relation to leadership effectiveness. He discusses the key characteristics of open-mindedness and how it can be cultivated by organizational leaders.

Open-mindedness means being receptive to new ideas and new information. In organizational life, it has several dimensions:

  • An openness to internally generated inspiration or innovation (creative dimension)

  • An openness to the ideas of others in the organization (collaborative or team dimension)

  • An openness to new trends and needs evident in customers and markets (external sensing dimension)

How to develop open-mindedness through guided self-reflection either solo or in concert with a coach/thought partner, using the following prompts:

  • Are you able to admit you’re wrong? Take note of your own tendencies to make excuses, extensively explain and argue. Dissect recent disagreements to examine whether you were appropriately defending your position or shutting out others’ opinions and important observations.

  • Can you describe instances where you, as a leader, changed your mind on a fundamental organizational issue? How did you come to see things differently?

  • Are there key people in your organization whom you turn to because they will give you the “unvarnished truth?”

  • Can you describe a time when your team took your initial point of view or decision, reworked it, and came out with a better decision? How did you respond?

  • Reflect on how your organizational culture either fosters or devalues open-mindedness. As a leader, do you promote or hinder open-mindedness as part of the culture? As the CEO you can elevate the importance of open-mindedness as both a value and a behavior.

Finally, Axelrod points out that open-mindedness is foundational to both good decision-making and organization-wide engagement. We need to do more to value and develop the dynamic balance between forceful action and open-mindedness that defines outstanding leadership.

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