Seeking and considering the opinions and ideas of others reflects the character strengths of wisdom and humility. Today’s world is complex and rapidly changing so that we need to hear the perspectives of people who have had different experiences and who possess different thinking styles. Doing so helps improve the likelihood we will make optimal decisions.
Unfortunately, pride, tribalism and competitiveness run amuck frequently get in the way of seeking and considering the opinions and ideas of others. Consider our federal government. In recent years, when a Republican or Democrat attends a gathering of people from the other party, they are branded as traitors. This mindset discourages connection across parties and creates a state of extreme tribalism that is irrational when it comes to good leadership and governance. We need people of both parties who connect, get to know one another and develop sufficient trust so they are able to work through their differences and make decisions. Absent some reasonable degree of connection among people who disagree with one another, distrust and extremism produce gridlock. In such instances, important issues go unaddressed.
Thomas Jefferson understood this. Jon Meacham recently wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times entitled “Socializing as a Political Tool” about how Jefferson used sociability to lubricate the political decision-making process. We see this in Abraham Lincoln, too (and it’s on full display in Stephen Spielberg’s new movie Lincoln).
Recent research supports the importance of socialization as part of a decision-making process. It turns out that when human beings have an opportunity to share their ideas and opinions, it triggers the brain’s reward system that produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter and hormone that makes us feel more engaged and, I suspect, makes us more likely to connect with the individual who is asking for our point of view (read more about it in this recent Atlantic article entitled The Selfish Meme). The bottom line is that leaders are wise to develop the habit of seeking and considering the opinions and ideas of others.
Update: Earlier this month I was in the San Francisco area to film videos for Athenaonline.com and to teach a one-day seminar on employee engagement for the Institute for Management Studies. Yesterday I spoke with Jim Blasingame on his nationally syndicated radio program The Small Business Advocate. Here are links to one of the video’s I filmed and the audio files of interviews I’ve done with Jim Blasingame.)
After a busy speaking and teaching schedule in the U.S. and Europe this last year, I’m taking time over the next few months to work on my next book and develop a new leadership center with TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. During the Spring of 2013 I will be speaking at the America Society for Training and Development’s International Conference and Exposition in Dallas and the Recognition International Professionals annual conference in New Orleans.