Habits can be a trap for people in leadership positions, whether they are working at a job or for themselves.
As leaders, they should provide a compelling vision that inspires those around them. Instead, many lapse into automatic and mindless thinking, which can affect every decision they make – as well as the actions of the people who report to them.
“Too often, we don’t come up with imaginative solutions because we let ourselves be ruled by routine and by preconceived notions,” says Rob-Jan de Jong, a behavioral strategist and author of Anticipate: The Art of Leading By Looking Ahead. “We think we know ahead of time what will and won’t work, which makes us quick to dismiss ideas that sound too ‘out there.’ The people who answer to you learn the lesson that creative thinking is frowned upon, even if that’s not the lesson you wanted to teach.”
Simply making a New Year’s resolution to have a more open mind in 2016 likely won’t be enough to turn things around. But there are behaviors and practices that, through repetition and perseverance, can help leaders and anyone else develop a mindset that’s open to imaginative ideas.
• Formulate powerful questions. Generating ideas starts with asking the right questions, and the best questions are thought-provoking. They challenge underlying assumptions and invite creativity. Train yourself to catch poorly designed questions, and reformulate them. Questions that begin with “why,” “what” and “how” are best because they require more thoughtful responses than those that begin with “who,” “when,” “where” and “which.” Avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
• Expand your sphere of influence. “We are strongly influenced, for better or worse, by the small group of people we have direct contact with,” de Jong says. “Since we tend to hang out with people who are fairly similar to ourselves, chances are we are limiting our perspectives.” Make an effort to encounter people and ideas that are “profoundly different from the usual suspects you hang out with.”
• Break your patterns. Increase your chances of seeing things differently by deliberately breaking your normal pattern of working, communicating, thinking, reacting and responding. Take a different route to work. Change where you sit in meetings.
• Learn to listen. Train yourself to engage in three pure listening conversations a week. They don’t need to be longer than 15 to 20 minutes, formal or informal, and the other person doesn’t need to know what you’re doing. Vow that you won’t try to take over the conversation no matter how much you want to. After the conversation, reflect on what you learned. Don’t dismiss any ideas or views that don’t align with yours.
“Some of these practices may take people outside their comfort zones, and everyone might not be ready to try all of these at once,” de Jong says. “But if you start to put them into practice, you’ll be able to grow into a more mindful, visionary leader, one step at a time.”
Rob-Jan de Jong, a behavioral strategist and author of “Anticipate: The Art of Leading By Looking Ahead”; www.robjandejong.com