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What Prevents Leaders from "Connecting the Dots"?

What Prevents Leaders from "Connecting the Dots"?

Dan McCarthy | Great Leadership

January 25, 2010

But what happens when we’re exposed to new information that doesn’t fit into any of these boxes? We often reject it, or in many cases, don’t even see it. It’s a survival mechanism – without it, we couldn’t cross the road without getting run over.

There are countless examples of businesses that failed as a result of being stuck in their own worldviews and not able to see a competitive risk or opportunity. The Swiss Watch industry failed to patent or market the quartz watch, even though they invented it, because they couldn’t shift paradigms. Their own success got in their way.

So what’s a leader to do? How can we not allow our worldviews to block our ability to “connect the dots”?

Here are five ways:

1. Listen for possibilities. Most of us tend to evaluate too quickly when we’re listening. Practice listening to learn, not to confirm what you already believe. Listen for what’s new, not what you already know. It requires a willingness to suspend judgment, a willingness to tolerate paradox, patience, curiosity, and respect for how others might see things.

2. Spend time with outliers. While it’s good to have experienced and trusted “experts” in your inner circle, you also need to spend a little time with outliers, those unconventional mavericks that exist in any organization.

3. Be a lifelong learner. The phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” just makes me cringe. Education shouldn’t stop when we’re out of college. And don’t just focus on practical functional knowledge pertaining to your own field. It’s those unrelated “liberal arts” that can often broaden your worldview and enable you to make connections.

4. Don’t let yourself get isolated from reality. I just wrote a post on this topic: here are 10 ways to prevent this from happening as a leader.

5. Manage your career for diverse experiences. I’ve seen too many leaders that have only worked for one company, one location, and/or one function. The more diverse your experiences, the more likely it is you’ll develop a more diverse and broader worldview. If for some reason you don’t feel you can get this variety of experiences on the job, then seek them out off the job. Travel, join things, get involved, and break out of your rut.

As leaders, we need to be able and willing to change our worldviews. Just as importantly, we need to help others change their worldviews. That’s the essence of leadership, isn’t it? It’s about getting people to change. Management is about changing behavior – leadership is the ability to change worldviews.

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