One irony of human nature is the tendency we have to believe everyone around us should be open-minded about our opinions and behaviors, yet so frequently we struggle with people who don’t think and behave the same way we do. On occasion, we encounter someone who demonstrates genuine openness to hearing new perspectives and is uninterested in qualifying everything as good or bad, black or white. Spending time around such a person can have an enormously positive impact, as it gives others tacit permission to express thoughts and capabilities without fear of being judged as right or wrong.
This leadership story helps illustrate the value of having and encouraging an open mind:
“I was a 19-year old college freshman at a tiny liberal arts college, and I decided to take a public speaking course during a short winter term. The faculty was small, so some members covered a variety of subjects—and in this case we had a philosophy professor teaching us the topic.
“The class was made up of almost entirely traditional students, except for one single mom who seemed so much older than the rest of us (in reality, she was probably only in her thirties!) It was this woman’s turn to give her presentation, and part of the routine was for other class members to offer feedback at the conclusion of each speech. We took turns giving our suggestions, but as one member of the class was offering his not-so-constructive comments, the professor promptly interrupted him with this statement, “Be careful what you say. Have an open mind. If your mind is open, it leaves more room for the good stuff.”
“At the time, my professor’s remark didn’t seem all that profound. It was, though, and that guidance and management of the situation has literally stayed with me for decades. I realized her words were actually a kind, yet pointed, way of stopping unpleasantness in its tracks—and a simultaneous reminder that what we fill our heads with is a large determiner of what kind of person we will be. If we keep an open mind, we give ourselves the space to be positive and flexible to different ways of thinking. If we fill our minds with negativity, the likelihood is that we’ll behave in negative ways. I have been inspired by that simple statement and have called it to mind in countless situations over the years.”
-Laura Mabry, Manager of Corporate and Foundation Relations, University of Arkansas
A number of qualities are inherent to open-mindedness: continuous learner, curious spirit, knack for seeing things from fresh perspectives and respect for differing beliefs of others. People who authentically demonstrate these characteristics frequently have a special charisma and way of making those around them feel comfortable and confident.
At Milestone Leadership, we know open-mindedness is an important trait among leaders worth following. They inspire the best thinking, creativity and behavior in others. When followers are encouraged to be their genuine selves, the result is a greater degree of trust among team members, resulting in collective confidence and willingness to take calculated risks, communicate more effectively and bring their best efforts to the group.
Have you pulled the parachute ripcord for your team?