I once sat in on a meeting between a government official and the Executive Director of a non-profit. The official arrived, sat down at the table and immediately announced, “I will listen, but I’m not going to change my mind.” The ED and I were taken aback, because we both sensed that the meeting’s intent was already in jeopardy. I should have anticipated the official’s comment because years ago he had told me that anyone that changed their mind was a weak leader and not fit for public office. Let’s look closely at his contention.
Many agree that listening is a primary responsibility of a leader and a tool, when honed, can assist in producing effective results. But there is a closely related responsibility that is not as well understood — inclusion. The definition I offer here is the responsibility of a leader to listen and gather information, then open their mind to other people’s well-thought out insights and suggestions.
Alan Alda, the Emmy-winning director and actor, once wrote, “A good listener is someone willing to change their mind.” No, he wasn’t advocating being a weathervane and changing direction with every conversation. He was offering that you can’t have a substantive conversation unless you listen with the hope that what the other person has to say could change your mind. Good advice, especially in today’s world. Wouldn’t discussions in Congress and cable news networks be more effective if participants sat down with the thought that their minds could be changed?
As a leader, wouldn’t you be more effective if you sat down with someone holding an adversarial view point and challenged them, “I’m listening, give me something to change my mind!” Or perhaps at a meeting of your staff, have the attitude, “Here is what I propose, but if you have the data and concept to turn me around, give it to me.” Touché! It’s now incumbent on those presenting ideas to argue the data and give the boss something that is substantive. Wow, a much livelier discussion!
A great example of listening and inclusion occurred during preparations for U.S. military forces to invade the Caribbean island of Grenada in October 1983. There had been significant political upheaval on the island and the Cubans with Soviet assistance had built a large airport that would establish their long-term presence. After the Cuban sympathizers executed elected officials, President Ronald Reagan gave the go ahead to carry-out a military strike to take over the island and turn it back over to local rule. The Commander of the U.S. Navy Second Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, was in charge of the operation that would include all branches of the U.S. military. The operation was successful and all objectives were accomplished.
A couple of years later at the Pentagon, I worked for Admiral Metcalf and he told his story of the night before the invasion. During the final staff briefing, it was announced that the Army Rangers would be some of the first in and would secure the airfield by jumping at 1,000 feet. Intelligence reports had identified anti-aircraft guns stationed around the air field and the aircraft bringing in the paratroopers would possibly be under fire.
As the meeting broke up, an Army Ranger was overheard mentioning that the Rangers, with added risk, were actually capable of jumping at 500 feet. A startled staff member quickly got the word to the admiral and the plan was amended for the Rangers to jump at 500 feet. The next morning the attack went as planned and the Rangers secured the airfield with limited casualties. That being accomplished, the rest of the invasion went as smoothly as could be expected.
He went on to say, post-operation analysis arrived at the conclusion that because the aircraft flew in at 500 feet instead of 1,000, the enemy guns stationed around the perimeter of the field were unable to depress low enough to fire at the invaders. Someone’s mind being changed saved hundreds of lives.
Leaders make many decisions each day. Don’t be afraid to listen and change your mind.
Ron works with emerging leaders, execs, entrepreneurs and managers who want to sharpen their leadership skills and inspire their teams to achieve a level of performance beyond their imagination. He does this by providing high-impact, energizing programs that give the participants an opportunity to learn and practice the guiding principles of leadership that are crucial to establishing a success-oriented environment. You already know a lot about leadership, Ron helps you to amp it up and put it all together so that you use your abilities in a disciplined fashion every day to achieve results! His course participants are unanimous in their feedback, "I wish I had attended earlier in my career." He has also brought his Leadership Excellence Course to the Battleship North Carolina, where participants learn in a most inspiring environment how to motivate people, the power of integrity, the reasons for good feedback and many other defining leadership principles that help leaders and teams get to the next level and achieve results. You can check out some other course opportunities at AcademyLeadership.com. Look in the Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte and Wilmington areas.
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