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Leadership & Changing Your Mind

How difficult is it for you to change your mind? When was the last time you changed your mind? Do you consistently challenge your own thinking, or do you wait for others to bring the challenge to you? When your thinking is confronted, how do you react? I’ve often said the rigidity of a closed mind is the first step in limiting opportunity. I can think of no better definition for a closed mind than someone unwilling to change their opinions. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s much more valuable to step across mental lines in the sand rather than draw them.

Let me begin by suggesting that changing one’s mind isn’t necessarily the same thing as being wishy-washy. The difference is found in the motivation underpinning the change. If your opinions change with the wind based on little more than the court of public opinion, you’re not a leader but just someone else trying to fit-in with the cool kids. There is a big difference between taking a principled stand and trying to be liked. There’s also a big difference between standing on conviction vs. just wanting to win an argument. When evaluating your position on any given topic are you trying to learn something, or are you just trying to justify your opinion? Having strong convictions is a healthy thing so long as you’re convicted by the truth and not your pride or your ego.

Here’s the thing – no one has all the answers, so why even attempt to pretend that you do? Show me a person that never changes their mind and I’ll show you a static thinker who has sentenced their mind to a prison of mediocrity and wasted potential. If the world is constantly changing, if the marketplace is always evolving, if the minds of others are continuously developing, how can you attempt to be unchanging and still be relevant? The smartest people I know are the most willing to change their mind. They don’t want to be right, they want the right outcome – they want to learn, grow, develop, and mature. Think about it like this – it takes no effort to cling to your current thinking, however to change your mind requires you to challenge your mind. I’ve believed for quite sometime the most profound and commonly overlooked aspect of learning is recognizing the necessity of unlearning.

Smart leaders don’t tell people what they should think, they surround themselves with great thinkers and then consistently seek their insights, observations, and opinions. Subjecting yourself to dissenting opinion allows you to refine your good ideas, weed-out the bad ideas, and acquire new ideas.  Moreover, it’s the ability to evolve and nuance thinking that leads to the change and innovation your organization needs to survive.

A leader’s ability to change their mind demonstrates humility, confidence, and maturity. It makes them approachable, and it makes them human. People are looking for authentic, transparent leaders willing to sacrifice their ego in favor of right thinking. Bottom line – when you fear being wrong more than being proven wrong you have arrived as a leader.

Now it’s your turn – I’m interested in ways you’ve found to become more open-minded, examples of how changing your mind improved your circumstances, and yes, even those dissenting opinions on why you’re not buying the thinking espoused above…Thoughts?

Related Post: The Benefit of Dissenting Opinion

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    Ron

    April 25, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Mike,

    I’d love to forward your post to all the micromanagers I know. I thought your observation that ‘no one has all the answers, so why pretend that you do’ was right on the mark. There are alot of insecure people in leadership positions and it’s all too obvious to their subordinates who, like children, are much more sentient than is commonly believed.

    It’s true humility that inspires loyalty without any concomitant loss of respect.

    Ron

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Ron:

      You boiled this down to a single key trait – Humility. Where true humility exists, arrogance is not welcome, hubris is contained, and ego is subordinate to right thinking. Thanks for sharing Ron.

    Mark Oakes

    April 25, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Great post, Mike

    Changing our minds demonstrates wisdom, recognition of a transient and ever-changing landscape and a willingness to adapt at a moments notice. Leaders are often required to assimilate lots of information and make decisive decisions very quickly. This leadership character quality is counter-balanced by the recognition that every decision is made in a vacuum. As new information becomes available we often must change our minds and move in an entirely different direction

    As an entrepreneur I’ve made the decision to launch a number of new initiatives. Many of these, in hindsight, were wrong and had to be abandoned at various stages. One of the worse things a leader can do is to nurse a bad decision for fear of losing face or thinking ‘changing their minds’ is a sign of weakness. Quite the opposite is true. Be bold!

    The reed survives the storm because it remains supple and allows itself to bend with the wind. The tree believes it is better to remain rigid and inflexible and is snapped into pieces. Let’s be the former. The best decisions are extrinsicly motivated and focused on better serving those who follow. When we act like the tree and refuse to bend, our motivations are self-serving and suffering is sure to follow.

    M

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Mark:

      Thanks for sharing your valuable experience. For those of you not familiar with Mark, he is a highly respected CEO/Entrepreneur known among other things for his sound decision making ability. Chew on what he shared and you’ll be better for it. Thanks Mark.

    Dan Rockwell

    April 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    I find it hard to change my mind when I’m emotionally invested in a decision, project, or initiative. I begin identifying with the decision.

    The thing that frees me from bondage is separating my person from the project. It’s not about me it’s about the decision.

    The other thing that sets me free is continually seeking the best available options rather than defending a decision.

    I’ll add, there comes a point after the decision is made that rethink and second guessing stops. I’m thinking about those minor corrections that take the steam out of momentum but don’t add much value.

    Best Regards,

    Dan

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm

      Hi Dan:

      There were a couple of real nuggets for readers in your comment: 1,) Separate the person from the decision – focus on outcomes not emotions, and; 2.) Don’t sweat the small stuff.

      We’re in definite agreement on both counts. Thanks Dan.

    Wally Bock

    April 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I think that people leave their early adulthood as “fast deciders,” “slow deciders,” and “no deciders.” If you’re a boss, part of your job is being the “default decider” for your team, so being able to make a decision is a must-have.

    Then you must learn how to turn your natural strength into better decisions. Fast deciders (me) usually need to institute some kind of system that brings others into the process. I would present my ideas as an “initial hypothesis” and we developed specific questions we always asked to sharpen the decision. Slow deciders that I’ve coached need to develop a way to bring in other ideas, too, but also find ways to spur them to decision when that’s necessary. It’s almost always better to move more quickly in business, so slow deciders should find a way to use process and the team to push for decision, but you don’t want to decide too fast or without due diligence either, so fast deciders need process to slow them down.

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      Hi Wally:

      You bring up an interesting point with respect to the pace of decisioning. That said, I would submit that regardless of the pace at which decisions are made, there will be times when modifying or altogether changing the decision will be necessary. Thanks as always for your valuable insight Wally.

    Dan Collins

    April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Mike,

    From my perspective I tend to defer to Ockhams razor in most cases. When people bring dissenting opinion I believe wholeheartedly that we are best served to remove our inherent bias from the equation to get the best end result. With that said here is my approach: Does this fall into the category of Principle, Process or Perspective? On Principles I respect others but stand firm on my own. On Process I believe strongly in “Kaizen”, or continuous improvement, so all input is extremely valuable. On Perspective – heck that is what makes opposite ends of any spectrum often equally effective. There is no right or wrong perspective – simply perspectives and acknowledging and understanding other viewpoints is often the first step to improving ourselves.

    Bit long winded – but there’s my two cents.

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      Hi Dan:

      Love this so much I think it merits repeating: “Does this fall into the category of Principle, Process or Perspective? On Principles I respect others but stand firm on my own. On Process I believe strongly in “Kaizen”, or continuous improvement, so all input is extremely valuable. On Perspective – heck that is what makes opposite ends of any spectrum often equally effective. There is no right or wrong perspective – simply perspectives and acknowledging and understanding other viewpoints is often the first step to improving ourselves.”

      Sage advice that deserves taking note of…Thanks Dan.

      Susan

      April 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      This is an excellent distinction Dan!

    William Powell

    April 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    The lack of willingness to change one’s mind is a pretty good indicator of their leadership style…usually command and control. If there is a sense of always being right, you’re not really leading. You’re dictating.

    Great post Mike!

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      Agreed – welll said and quickly to the point as always William. Thanks for sharing your observations.

    Barbara Memoli

    April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Mike,
    Fantastic post!
    Changing my mind has become easier with time and experience but it was a struggle.
    The need to be “right” consumed a lot of time and energy in past work experiences and I believe it was learned behavior. I grew up with and worked for people who thought changing ones mind was a sure sign of weakness. As I grew from those situations I realized that was not true and a very limiting way of leading. As I took on my own leadership roles I made a commitment to remain flexible and open to challenge when it came up. It is not always easy but my openness and approachability has served me well.

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      Hi Barbara:

      Thanks for your comment. I suspect the evolution of your decisioning process resembles most successful people. You have replaced unproductive learned behavior, with productive learned behavior – this will always serve you well.

    Eddie Lago

    April 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    I love to invest, and one of the things I learned is not to get emotionally involved. If we buy a house to flip, we put in that house the least expensive and fast repairs to make it presentable and sell it. When my clients want to buy a business they don’t change their mind over night based on emotions, but rather based on their calculations in the return on investment. http://www.lakeviewbusinessbrokers.com has business of over one million dollars available, and the process of changing your mind requires a lot of analyzing. I love your article because it reminds me of a verse I found in the bible that says something like; it is of wise people to reconsider. Some times I change my mind, but most of the time I make a decision and stick to them.

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Hi Eddie:

      Thanks for sharing your observations. When weighing the positives and negatives associated with changing you mind in a given situation a careful analysis is a prudent thing to do. Examining motivations as well as potential outcomes is very important. Thanks again for sharing Eddie.

    Elliot Ross

    April 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I also believe being willing to change your mind is critical – and I would suggest that there can be two separate time frames to consider.

    The first frame is being able to avoid (as Dan Rockwell states above) being over invested in a current decision. using confirmation bias to attempt to fit new facts to support a decision. I believe too often many believe that changing your mind is implicit admission of having made a mistake. And that should not be the case. If facts have changed, or superior ideas emerge, I agree with you Mike, changing your mind demonstrates that you can accept new ideas and facts that come from outside yourself.

    The second frame that I consider critical is this; any decision that we make is only valid in the *circumstances* and the *time* in which it was made. It is physically impossible to make two identical decisions as the axis of *time* is always different.

    What was a good decision four years ago, may not be a good decision today.

    What was not performed as a bad decision this year, may be a good decision next year.

    I am sure that we have all have heard;

    “we tried that 2 years ago,,, nobody went for it…”

    or; “We designed that a few years ago because …”

    In these cases there may be sunk costs we need to look beyond, there may be emotional attachments and significant process disruption contributing to our delaying or abdicating any change within the context of that original decision.

    But our business environment is evolving and changing rapidly, and we must always be adjusting to fit this evolving axis of time.

    And sometimes those adjustments may be revisiting decisions we made, or did not make in the past.

    Regards

    Elliot

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      Hi Elliot:

      Thanks for the great comment. Our decisions are only as good as our thinking at given point in time based on the information we have at hand. As time and circumstances evolve so must our thinking. It is those leaders who can readdress old decisions in the context of new information that are the most successful. There’s an old military saying I’m fond of which has some validity with respect to the topic at hand: adapt, improvise and overcome.

      Thanks Elliot.

    Susan Mazza

    April 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    There is a lot of wisdom in your post and the comments here. There is one key message that bubbled to the surface for me: our value is no longer in our knowing, but rather in our thinking.

    The context of “knowledge is power” unfortunately continues to be alive and well in many organizations. In those organizations there is a lot of perceived pressure on people in leadership positions to “know” which insidiously feeds close mindedness. The first step to changing this is to wake up to it’s grip on the culture. Fortunately with mindful leadership this context can be changed.

    One of the best tools I have found to help people open their minds (and become aware of just how closed our minds naturally are) is a book by Ellen Langer called Mindfulness. And for educators in particular, her second book on the topic, The Power of Mindful Learning, is also excellent.

      Mike Myatt

      April 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Hi Susan:

      Thanks for the great observation as well as the reference to Ellen’s book. You said: “There is one key message that bubbled to the surface for me: our value is no longer in our knowing, but rather in our thinking.” While true, I think a more accurate take is: There is less value in the individual knowledge we possess than the collective influence that a greater body of knowledge has on our individual thought. As Jim Strock pointed out in his comment, it’s not the knowing but the questioning. There’s one to chew on…

      Thanks again for the keen insights Susan.

        Susan Mazza

        April 25, 2011 at 6:45 pm

        Point well taken Mike – in my attempt to be pithy I can see something got lost in translation. By “knowing” I was referring to knowing the answers and the need to be right, as opposed to knowledge and how we apply it.

        As you said, “The smartest people I know are the most willing to change their mind. They don’t want to be right, they want the right outcome.”

          Mike Myatt

          April 25, 2011 at 6:59 pm

          Hi Susan – I wasn’t trying to debate/correct, but just expand on your excellent thoughts. I think we’re very much on the same page and appreciate your thoughts and insights.

    Mike Myatt

    April 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Jim:

    I found all your comments to be spot-on as usual. Your insights are always particularly perceptive, but more importantly they’re actionable. I particularly liked your statement that “A leader’s stock in trade might well be questions–not answers.” Brilliant!

    Thanks Jim.

    Tanveer Naseer

    April 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Hi Mike,

    First off thanks for the good read, both in your post and in the incredibly insightful comments it’s garnered.

    There’s one point you made in your piece which stood out for me; it’s the point you make about how smart leaders “don’t want to be right, they want the right outcome”. That kernel of truth can act as a powerful internal compass for anyone to use when faced with a challenge to their approach or decision, as it reminds us to ask ourselves if the decisions we’re making serve to move our team toward the right outcome, or whether it’s being pushed by some ego-driven bias.

    If leaders honestly ask themselves whether their aim is to be right or whether they’re driven to achieve the right outcome, they can be more open to admitting their initial choice was wrong without feeling that it reflects poorly on their leadership. In fact, in this light, those they serve will appreciate their leader even more because it shows they’re able and willing to put aside any notions of personal self-interests and focus instead on making decisions that benefit everyone and serve any given situation best.

    Indeed, in today’s seemingly in-perpetual-flux world, those who will stand out as being the most capable leaders are not those who insist on digging their heels in the sand in order to stand their ground. Instead, it will be those who are able to see the value in adapting and changing course as new information and outcomes become known.

    On an aside, a tip of the hat to Dan Collins for his brilliant breakdown of decision-making evaluation into the three categories of principle, process, and perspective. Making a note of that one for future reference.

    Anonymous

    April 29, 2011 at 5:04 am

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    Debbie Sparrow

    May 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    I loved your comments on being open-minded! Could I just add another thought- that if you are struggling with resentments from the past and with relationships, this can also hinder your mind set..just a thought.

    Oarabile

    May 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Hello Mike
    Thats a great post mike change is all there is to success and embracing new concepts and new way of doing things.

    Oarabile

    […] information would be the thing to feel guilty about.As Mike Myatt states in this article titled; Leadership & Changing Your Mind ;A leader’s ability to change their mind demonstrates humility, confidence, and […]

    LMD

    January 20, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Although that I totally agree that lack of willingness is not a good sign, however, consistently changing your mind is not a good sign.  When a leader says to it’s directors one day “I’ve done all I can here, it’s time for me to move on”, and literally the next day says “I plan to be here for a very long time” or “I don’t think I need a second in command” and then announces someone for that position a week later, stating ‘this person will be shadowing me for the next year’, and then without communication, all of the leader’s direct reports are reporting to this person…all of those changes, collatively, tell me this person is not a leader, is not sure what they want or how to communicate it…sorry leadership…so it is not always good to be open to change.  My opinion is true change should take time to be considered.

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