One thing all fantastic innovators have in common with each other is that they're willing to entertain or be receptive to new ideas and leave prejudices at the door. This is the very definition of open-mindedness, and it's what allows them to see other possibilities and get outside the box.

But be careful not to muddle that definition.

How do we mess it up? By switching the verb. To entertain an idea is not the same as fully accepting it. And neither is to entertain an idea the same as compromising. Yet, perhaps prompted by greater pressure for inclusivity and the healing of divisions, we now associate open-mindedness with giving up some ground or adjusting our own values to be somehow "better".

The original definition of open-mindedness simply means that you say "Let's take a look" when presented with a new concept and analyze it objectively. You think hard about the pros and cons and all the possible implications. Once you've done that, if there's a sound, logical reason to reject the idea or adhere to your previous beliefs, you're absolutely free to do so.

Let me put it another way.

You can say no.

You don't always have to change.

Why is this critical to understand? Because when others want their way, they can be quick to label you in all kinds of ways if you don't bend. They can look at your adherence to current protocols or your rejection of proposals as a sign you're not adaptable enough, not compassionate enough, not intelligent enough. They can walk away and leave you--and your business--floundering without support.

And that can sting. You're only human, after all.

As a leader, you have to be able to take this criticism. And more importantly, you have to find ways to show others that, even if nothing shifts, you really are hearing them out and seriously pondering what they bring to you. Before the water cooler grumbles can start,

  • Ask tons of questions. Asking for more information sends the signal that you're interested and are trying to understand. It is by far the easiest way to show open-mindedness.
  • Visit new people and places. Travel and networking both require you to adjust on the fly. You can share your experiences and show others you're working for new opportunities.
  • Delegate and bring in more outsiders (experts). This shows that you trust the judgment of others, recognize the skills and abilities they have, and are willing to step aside when necessary to gain something of value.
  • Ask for more mock-ups and proposals. Even if you end up not taking a lot of the ideas you get, this shows that you're not automatically going to shoot the concepts down. You can talk with the employees about what makes each concept feasible or unfeasible, as well as what you appreciate or don't like.
  • Lay out both sides. Talk through your analysis so people can grasp why you came to your conclusion without feeling disrespected.
  • Show continued learning (and encourage others to do it, too). Whether it's taking a class or sharing the podcasts you've filled your player with, like asking questions, seeking education shows that you don't think you have all the answers. And when you support learning in others, you show you're not scared of whatever they might come back with.
  • Look at your routine. When's the last time you did something spontaneous for yourself or your workers? Sure, you have to schedule a lot of things for practical reasons, but even something as simple as going to a different restaurant for a business lunch can send the message that you're not completely stuck in one way of thinking.

Being open-minded can be incredibly beneficial to you personally and professionally. But you can be open-minded without being the reed bent in every direction by the wind. Shift when it makes sense, stand your ground when it doesn't, and as long as you're transparent, don't worry about the rest.