Experienced leaders should be willing to think differently.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what it means to have a beginner’s mind and why, especially if you’re a non-beginner, it’s so important to have one.
The thought process started for me a few weeks ago when I was in a yoga class. If you’ve read my blog for awhile you know that I’m a committed yogi. I started in-depth five years ago (last month was the anniversary of my first class) as a way to get back on my feet (more or less literally) after receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Since then, I figure I’ve taken well over 1,000 classes, have completed 200 hours of teacher training and learned how to do a lot of things like headstands and handstands that I never expected to do even when I didn’t have MS.
Most experienced yoga teachers will tell you that it takes about five years of regular yoga before you’re no longer a beginner. I may or may not be a beginner at this point. It probably depends on the day. Either way, I’m working hard to keep a beginner’s mind because there’s always more to learn and I don’t want to get into a rut.
I’m trying to keep that perspective in my life off the yoga mat as well. I find that a little harder to do because life just sort of blends together. It’s not like you have a lot of signaling rituals like changing clothes and rolling up your yoga mat that tell you it’s time to shift your attention and perspective. Instead, you just sort of do what you do – the same things that, over the years, have made you an expert at whatever it is you do. That’s great until things in your operating environment change and you’re too caught up in your non-beginner’s mind to notice it.
For instance, one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how more experienced (read that as older) managers and executives can effectively lead and work with newer teammates (read that as younger) who grew up with a completely different approach to working with technology and data. The new folks are all about collaborative, open source, asynchronous ways of working together. The meetings and email chains that their more experienced colleagues have become expert in using are a productivity-draining annoyance for the new ones. I’m seeing this beginner’s mind opportunity for experienced leaders in most of the organizations I work in.
So, what are some actionable ways for non-beginners to keep a beginner’s mind? Here are three ideas:
Ask How – Get in the habit of asking colleagues how they work when they’re doing their best work. Their answers on preferred process may surprise you and open your eyes to new ways of doing things or adjustments you need to make to work more effectively with them.
Suspend Judgment – Whether you recognize it or not, you’ve got some deeply held stories about the “right way” to do things. When you can’t see past your story, you make judgments about people who do things differently than you. For instance, you might be a Gen Xer that has a bunch of stories about millennials and their expectations about work. What would happen if you suspended that judgment, moved past the stories and really learned something new about how they work and why they work?
Get Out of Your Box – Are you always reading the same stuff, talking to the same people, going to the same meetings? For that matter, are you always watching the same movies or shows, eating the same food, visiting the same places? Consider getting out of your box. Chances are you’ll start making connections that challenge your thinking and perspective. When that happens, you’re feeding your beginner’s mind.
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