A leader's most important job is to inspire the actions of those around them and this takes creativity. Unfortunately bad habits that stifle the imagination often get in the way.
"Too often we let ourselves be ruled by routine and by preconceived notions," says behavioral strategist Rob-Jan de Jong, 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."
There are four behaviors and habits that, through repetition and perseverance, can help you become more open minded, says de Jong.
1. Ask Powerful Questions. Generating ideas starts with asking the right questions and the best questions are thought provoking, says de Jong. "[Inspiring leaders] challenge underlying assumptions and invite creativity," he says. "They also give us energy, making us aware of the fact there is something to explore that we hadn't fully grasped before."
Train yourself to formulate questions that will help your team dig deeper. Start with "why," "what" and "how" because they require more thoughtful responses than those that begin with "who," "when," "where" and "which," says de Jong. And avoid questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no."
2. 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."
Instead, make a deliberate effort to encounter people and ideas that are profoundly different than your "usual suspects." Visit a conference for a different profession. Join an arts or sporting club, or buy a magazine that covers a topic you know nothing about.
3. Break your patterns. You'll become more open minded and see things differently if you deliberately break your normal pattern of working, communicating, thinking, reacting and responding, de Jong says. He suggests taking a different route to work or changing where you normally sit in meetings. Even subtle differences can change your view - and your viewpoint.
4. Teach Yourself To Listen. "We've all been taught the importance of being good listeners," de Jong says. "The problem is most of us struggle to actually do it."
When people think they're listening, they're more likely waiting for their turn to share a story, opinion or experience. Instead, train yourself to engage in three pure listening conversations a week, suggests de Jong. "They don't need to be longer than 15 to 20 minutes, they can be formal or informal, and the other person doesn't need to know what you're doing," he says. "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."
After the conversation, reflect on what you learned. Don't dismiss any ideas or views that don't align with yours. "Dare to challenge your own assumptions and reframe your beliefs if need be," he says.
While some of these practices may take you outside your comfort zones, de Jong says you should give them a try. "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," he says.