Anyone can improve their visionary side—substantially. This also—and especially—applies to those who do not aspire to become larger-than-life heroes, but who do want to be a source of inspiration…to lead their teams and organizations with energizing direction and purpose. Here are eight original, easy-to-integrate practices to help everyday leaders let go of categories, welcome new information, and embrace multiple views:
“Yes, and…” Saying “Yes, but…” winds up blocking a creative idea or alternative perspective 9 out of 10 times. To combat this tendency, immediately rephrase your reaction to “Yes, and…,” allowing you to remain open rather than closed. Keep up this practice until “Yes, and…” becomes your default reaction. “Just one word can make a huge difference.”
Break the pattern. Deliberately break your normal, everyday patterns. It can start with something as simple as parting your hair differently. With this small, mindful act, you’ll prompt your internal alert system to wake up and start seeing things differently. You’ll also become aware of how you can easily, unconsciously fall victim to mindless routines.
Powerful questions. Consider the question: Can our team become more innovative? Asking this closed question will probably get you a “yes”—followed by a frustrating lack of change. Now, consider the outcome of the question: What do we need to change to ensure that our team can become more innovative? Powerful questions challenge underlying assumptions and invite creativity.
Appreciative inquiry. Develop a set of appreciative questions aimed at discovering what is going well, and why. Use them when analyzing problems, withholding the temptation to first ask what went wrong.
Radical exposure. Most people tend to hang out with a small group of people who are fairly similar to themselves, thus limiting exposure to perspectives and ideas. To practice radical exposure, regularly engage with a subgroup that is profoundly different from the usual suspects you hang out with. Visit a conference of a very different profession or join a club outside your comfort zone.
Unblind your blindspot. Group dynamics often make what’s on the table appear as though it’s the only possibility. But it rarely is. It’s just what the group is most comfortable with. During conversations aimed at clarifying or making a decision, ask: What other options exist? What are we not seeing or saying?
Learn to listen. Engage in pure listening conversations. They don’t need to be longer than 15 minutes, and your conversation partner does not need to know you are practicing. Pure listening means not taking over the conversation with your views or ideas, no matter how much you want to. Just keep asking questions. Learn to listen for other peoples’ insights, hunches, and observations. After the conversation, take a few minutes to reflect on ideas or views that don’t align with yours. Consider what truths they might hold and research them a little further.
Opinion swap. Choose someone at work who is least like you—whether in character, taste, thoughts, or actions. Think of a subject you normally disagree on; it might even be a TV show. Imagine yourself adopting the other person’s opinion, like you’d try on an outfit. See things from this person’s point of view and come up with some reasons why he or she loves what you hate, or vice versa. Once you are comfortable, do the same exercise—live. You may learn something valuable about your opinions.
Adapted from ANTICIPATE: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead by Rob-Jan de Jong (AMACOM; January 2015).
Rob-Jan de Jong is one of five faculty members in Wharton’s flagship executive program “Global Strategic Leadership.” A sought-after international consultant, he helps leaders and companies anticipate the future and arrive at winning strategies. He is the author of the book: Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead (AMACOM, 2015). His clients include Philips, ING, HCL, Dannon, and other top organizations.