As an executive coach, I get asked the question, "Can I think bigger and bolder?" The answer is, "yes you can". But not without deliberate practice.
It's like being right-handed or left-handed. Most people hardly consider it. We rarely see a reason to change our dexterity. In leadership however, as in baseball, that inability to do so, leaves us vulnerable.
Using our left-hand, right-hand analogy — roughly 13% of major league baseball players are switch hitters. Their batting averages are markedly different when they go from their dominant side to their less dominant side.
The exception is Chipper Jones. A 19 year Atlanta Braves veteran, he was a rarity amongst switch hitters. Jones posted a batting average of .303 left-handed and .304 batting average from the right side. Contrast that with all-time great, Mickey Mantle. Mantle posted a .330 batting average from his right side and a less than stellar .280 batting average from the left side.
Mantle’s power came from his left side. He claimed the crown of best all-time switch hitter because he hit an insane 369 home runs from the left side. Bear in mind that roughly 76% of active players stick with their dominant side.
What does this have to do with thinking bigger and bolder?
If you apply the same stats to business leadership, 76% of the people I coach have a business-batting average of .300. They’ve learnt to use their dominant side to hit a fastball, curveball, slider, sinker, knuckleball, etc.¹
They’ve learned to deal with ambiguity and complexity. They are good critical thinkers. They use this skill to hit the leadership equivalents of those fastballs, curveballs, knuckleballs, etc.
These leaders have developed muscle memory for how to to solve business problems.
But what if a complex problem doesn’t go away? Or worse, resurfaces after it was thought to be solved?
In business, when we move from just solving problems to more expansive thinking, we create better outcomes. Like the switch hitter in baseball, we become more agile. It doesn’t matter if the pitcher is right or left-handed, the batter can switch it up and respond.
It’s the same for leaders in business. You are an agile leader when you can close the gap between “fixed” thinking; “I’m committed to being right,” and “expansive” thinking, which equals “I’m committed to learning.”
Much like in baseball, it requires deliberate practice. Switch hitters are rare both in baseball and business. It takes work.
Most people assume that learning happens when we’re developing into adults; at school and university. This was a commonly held belief. The idea that our brains can constantly learn, what scientists call neuroplasticity, was first advanced by William James in 1890.² Even then, it wasn’t widely accepted.
Until the 1960s, researchers believed changes in the brain only took place during infancy and childhood. By early adulthood, it was believed the brain's physical structure was mostly permanent.³
Modern research demonstrate that the brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones as it adapts to new experiences, learns new information, and create new memories.
Brain plasticity refers to the brain's ability to change and adapt to experience, throughout our lifetime.
We all think differently and have distinct thinking patterns made up of four elements: Vision, Courage, Ethics, and Reality. Expanding your Thinking Pattern℠ helps you explore ideas, collaborate across silos, take action, and plan better.
When we’re “fixed” in our thinking we rely on the two strongest elements of our thinking pattern, much like relying on our dominant hand.
When we allow ourselves to be more “expansive” in our thinking, we learn to take advantage of the two quieter, less dominant elements. We give ourselves the mental dexterity to think differently.
For example, if I’m a big thinker, focused only on my idea, I may have the tendency to exclude the thoughts of others. Keeping with this example, I may ignore the evidence or planning stages that could bring my idea to fruition.
When we consciously move to the less used areas of our thinking pattern we become more “expansive.” We are developing a new skill. We are practicing.
With continued practice, we narrow the gap between “fixed” thinking and “expansive” thinking. We build our leadership muscle and practice being a switch-hitting agile leader.
Now we’re ready to hit the curveballs of business.
¹ Simon, Andrew. “Here’s the Greatest Switch-Hitting Lineup of All Time.” MLB.Com.
² The Principles of Psychology (1890), James, William, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-70625-0
³ Cherry, Kendra. “How Our Brain Neurons Can Change Over Time From Life’s Experience.” Verywell Mind.