Omnivorous Leadership

I never cease to be amazed by my dog Lela’s tireless quest for food, or the broadness of her definition of it. To Lela, food is what you eat. And so during the course of the day yesterday I wrested from her mouth one apple core, a piece of neon yellow chewing gum (used) and apparently-not-poisonous mystery berries.

Although her open-mindedness vis-a-vis “food” leaves me longing for hand sanitizer, I can’t help but admire her instincts. In her own weird way, Lela has no preconceptions about what opportunity is. She pursues it with single-minded enthusiasm.

I wonder if there’s a lesson in there for all of us about the value of seeking opportunities, insights, and new ideas from unconventional sources. I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular qualities of leadership that enable an organization to be innovative.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of these qualities must be an “omnivorous” approach to ideas at all levels — an ability to set aside our bias and evaluate opportunity upon facts instead of preconceptions.

I read an article over on Wired recently about the psychology of power.In it one of the psychologists quoted notes that those who find themselves in positions of power consistently become less apt to listen to those who are not perceived as being as powerful.

As a result, they miss out on the insights of those working around them, and the work of the group suffers. This myopia also applies to the most important group that a leader has to listen to — the people they actually serve, whether it be through products and services in for-profit companies, or through programs in the nonprofit world.

As Andrew Carnegie was found of saying, if he had succeeded in life, it was because he surrounded himself with people smarter than he. Where would he have ended up if he hadn’t recognized the value in listening to those around him?

I think it’s something worth thinking about as we millennials begin to accept positions of leadership, and strike off on our own to create those positions for ourselves through new start-up ventures and organizations.

What do you think? How do you incorporate an omnivorous approach to ideas at your workplace, even if you aren’t in a leadership position?

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