Person running fast up a hill with a parachute against a moody sky signifying open minds are like like parachutes: work best when open.

As the old saying goes, minds are like parachutes — they function best when they’re open. This is especially true in the era of learning and unlearning about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. You may be challenged to question things you have always been so sure about. 

Open-mindedness is a combination of intellectual humility and openness to experience; it’s about being willing to seek out different viewpoints. It’s also the ability to let those viewpoints change your beliefs. In 2016, professors Elizabeth J. Krumrei-Mancuso and Steven Rouse from Pepperdine University broke the concept of intellectual humility down into four components: 

  1. Having respect for other viewpoints.
  2. Not being intellectually overconfident.
  3. Separating one’s ego from one’s intellect.
  4. Willingness to revise one’s own viewpoint.

I see humility and intellectual agility as interconnected. Intellectual agility is one of the five habits we encourage leaders to build. When you have intellectual agility, you expand what you see as possible and open to new perspectives. You welcome diversity in thinking and approach.

In his book “Mindsight,” Daniel Siegel writes, “Openness implies that we are receptive to whatever comes to our awareness and don’t cling to preconceived ideas about how things ‘should’ be. We let go of expectations and receive things as they are, rather than trying to make them how we want them to be.” 

The biggest shift for leaders is moving from “me” to “we.” Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have all the answers. Instead, ask yourself, Who on my team may be thinking totally differently about this issue than I am?

Here are a few ideas for cultivating an open mind:

Suspend Your Judgments

Your mind is kind of lazy when it comes right down to it. It develops shortcuts to make sense of your environment and what’s going on around you. These are often judgments and stories you tell yourself that go unquestioned. Judgments can also be passed down from generation to generation in the form of family “truths.” 

In our work, we invite people to name some of their automatic beliefs — like “politicians are untruthful,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “Women are bad drivers.” These are automatic thoughts or judgments that have unwittingly become beliefs. Like a groove worn into a record, round and round your mind goes over the same thought.

If you start paying attention to your thinking, you will hear the judgment that just rattles off all on its own. You don’t think these “truths”; they think you. See if you can suspend these judgments for a moment or two. By practicing mindfulness and coming back to the present moment without judgment, you can become more open-minded. 

Interrupt the Automatic Way of Doing a Thing

Because our brains build shortcuts for everything we do repetitively — driving, participating in a recurring meeting, taking a shower, etc. — we engage in these activities by rote, barely thinking at all. You can start building intellectual agility by interrupting habits that you tend not to notice.

Bring more awareness to the way you engage in conversations, and do the opposite of what you normally do. If you are often the quiet one, task yourself to speak up at least five times. If you are typically the one who does a lot of the talking, challenge yourself to remain quiet for ten or more minutes and just listen.

Journal Every Day

Keeping a journal is a wonderful way to raise your self awareness. At the beginning or end of a day, write about any critical incidents that may have happened at work or at home. Write about the following in relation to the situation: What happened? How did you handle it? What might you have done differently?

These three simple questions can help open your mind and shape future responses in a fresh way. In addition, you can look back over the year of journaling and see your own development and progress. It can be encouraging!

Cultivating an open mind is a life’s work. The reward will be greater mental agility, healthier relationships and a heightened sense of well being. Totally worth it in my humble opinion.


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I founded Henley Leadership Group 22 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.