Habits can be a trap for people in leadership positions.
“Too often, we don’t come up with imaginative solutions because we let ourselves be ruled by routine and by preconceived notions,” says behavioral strategist Rob-Jan de Jong.
“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 offering new ideas is frowned upon, even if that’s not the lesson you wanted to teach.”
Below are four behaviors and practices that, through repetition and perseverance, can help leaders develop a mindset that’s open to imaginative and better ideas.
1. Ask powerful questions
Generating ideas starts with asking the right questions. The best are thought-provoking – they challenge underlying assumptions and invite creativity, de Jong says.
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.” Especially avoid questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
2. Expand your horizons
“We are strongly influenced, for better or worse, by the small group of people we have direct contact with,” de Jong says. That can limit your perspective. He recommends making a deliberate effort to encounter people and ideas that are “profoundly different from the usual suspects you hang out with.”
3. Change it up
You can increase your chances of seeing things differently if you deliberately break your normal pattern of working, communicating, thinking, reacting and responding, de Jong says. Take a different route to work. Change where you sit in meetings. If you are normally the first to volunteer, hold back.
Often when people are “listening,” they really are waiting for the first opportunity to share their story, their opinion or their experience.
De Jong suggests training yourself to engage in three pure listening conversations a week. They don’t need to be longer than 15 to 20 minutes, 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.
“Just keep asking questions and don’t dismiss anything the other person says,” de Jong says. After the conversation, reflect on what you learned. Don’t dismiss any ideas or views that don’t align with yours.
One step at a time
“Some of these practices may take people outside their comfort zones,” 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.
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