Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World
February 01, 2016
Al Pittampalli explains why persuadability and the ability to challenge your own beliefs is a key leadership trait.
Changing one's mind is generally seen as indecisive at best, and a sign of weakness at worst. When we think of a prototypically strong leader, we think of unwavering beliefs, vision, and resolve. We think of what Al Pittampalli calls the three Cs: "confidence, conviction, and consistentcy."
But the ability to change one's mind is becoming a competitive advantage in the constantly changing, connected, and fast-paced world of today. It is a trait that Pittampalli believes is "one of the most critical skills of modern leadership." In his new book, Persuadable, he explains why this is true, and more importantly how to become more adept at challenging your own beliefs and assumptions and more open to changing your mind in response to new information and other people's arguments.
Being persuasive has always been seen as a key attribute of leadership. Pittampalli suggests it may be even more important today to be persuadable, to have "the genuine willingness and ability to change your mind in the face of new evidence." He explains exactly what that means:
Being persuadable requires rejecting absolute certainty, treating your beliefs as temporary, and acknowledging the possibilty that no matter how confident you are about any particular opinion—you could be wrong. It involves actively seeking out criticism and counterarguments against even your most long-standing favored beliefs. Most important, persuadability entails evaluating those arguments as objectively as possible and updating your beleifs accordingly.
This is not to say you shouldn't have strong opinions and great resolve. It simply means that your opinions are malleable, and can be changed in the light of new facts and new perspectives on a problem. To do anything else, in fact, is foolhardy. It is not weak to have a malleable mind, but wise.
To illustrate this point, the book begins with the story of Admiral William McRaven, who planned and led the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. He is as different from the prototype of headstrong, Patton-esque military leadership as World War II is from the current series of efforts across the globe to fight violent extremists. And it comes in response to the reality we live in, and an era of constantly shifting terrain and changing circumstances. A slow and stubborn march forward based on a predetermined decision that doesn't allow for a constant influx of new data, new ideas, updated information, and new realities on the ground (or in the marketplace) is doomed to fail. As Pittampalli says:
Highly decisive leaders, with their penchant for confidence, conviction, and consistency, may perform well in static environments. … In environments characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and dynamism, it's impossible to have all the answers. If you want to succeed, you must be prepared to change your mind.
And as Pittampalli points out, "Globalization, hyperconnectedness, and the rapid advancement of technology have all made the world more complex, dynamic, and unpredictable. Today—whether it be business, science, government, philanthropy, medicine, politics, even relationaships—everythign is special operations." And it is not enough to be keep an open mind, to simply be open to challenges and changes to your belief system. Leaders must seek them out, and be agressively and "actively open minded." The people he profiles in the book "go out of their way to challenge and even kill off their most cherished beliefs."
There are some surprising smaller lessons in the book, as well, such as "when defiance reveals compliance." To illustrate this lesson, specifically as it relates to the "illusion of nonconformity," he tells us of a friend who with a passion for music, particularly underground music, and how he has always discarded groups he loved from his playlist when they became popular, lamenting that they had "sold out." This basically describes me and all of my friends from about age 11 to 25. What we all came to realize, as Al's friend realized, is that we were allowing others to stop us from listening to music we loved. Letting popularity determine your interest in something, from whatever direction you're allowing it to determine it, is limiting. It is simple stubborness, rather than true originality or autonomy. It doesn't matter if you only enjoy music when it becomes popular, or refuse to listen to music once it does. Either way, you are letting yourself be persuaded in a limiting way rather than an expansive one. By allowing himself to return to simply listen to music that moved him, regardless of where it fell on the charts, his friend "moved from noncormity to autonomy. From crowd-determined to self-determined."
Persuadable is packed with these kind of surprising, seemingly-obvious-in-hindsight kind of truths. Pro-actively seeking out other perspectives and challenges to your own beliefs is a strong step toward becoming a better leader, a better decision maker, and a more open and receptive person to those around you. Al Pittampalli's new book is a great resource to begin doing that work.
We have 20 copies available.