Next Wave International™

Leadership & Life

Expand Your Worldview, Enlarge Your Influence
Mal Fletcher

Narrow Worldview - Short Shelf Life

A leader with a narrow worldview has a very short shelf life.

In an age of increasingly rapid change, professional qualifications and an impressive resume are no longer enough to guarantee longevity of tenure, or enduring influence.

By 2014, the average American will receive up to 9000 commercial emails in his/her inbox each year. In much of the developed world, each of us is exposed to as many as 1500 commercial messages every day in one form or another.

This is the age of data overload. In fact, the global community generated something like 161 exabytes of information in 2006. One exabyte is one billion billion bytes.

People no longer need raw data; they need value-adding data. People in industry, as in life generally, are looking for information that has been processed through the filter of a wide band of knowledge and wisdom, so that it can be applied constructively and quickly.

The wider your knowledge base as a leader, the greater is your capacity to interpret new technologies and ideas and turn them into something useful.

As I travel the world speaking to civic, business, media and community leaders, I'm constantly surprised at how limited is the worldview of so many who hold positions of influence.

This limits their ability to make sense of change on behalf of others, which is a key requirement of leadership today.

Your worldview is the construct of reality through which you sift and interpret every event in your environment. It is the compass that guides your decision-making.

An expansive worldview allows you to see the big picture when it comes to change, while perhaps others are stuck peering uncomprehendingly at the details.

Expanding one's worldview is a constant discipline of mind and soul. To keep your worldview growing, make the following a central part of your routine:

1. Read the work of people who will threaten your comfort zone.

A broader worldview begins with exposure to new or unusual ideas. Leaders must read widely and from a broad range of disciplines. When was the last time you read something from outside your normal field of expertise or interest?

Leaders should also read and listen to people who challenge their preconceptions and assumptions, provoking an inner debate.

If you only ever listen to the same voices and those with whom you totally agree, your worldview will remain unchallenged and unprocessed - and unhelpful when it comes to turning ideas into action.

2. Let someone rock your boat.

The person who rocks your boat is the last one you should want to throw overboard!

Dissent is not the same as disloyalty, and when someone challenges your core ideas it does not necessarily mean that they're showing disrespect.

Iron sharpens iron, says the old proverb. To stay sharp and ahead of the curve, leadership requires constant challenge and a little provocation.

We all need the person who is to us like sand to the oyster; the colleague whose well-meaning yet challenging input helps refine our effectiveness.

3. Move outside your circle.

How quickly we get comfortable with our surroundings - and lose our creative edge. When did you last have lunch with someone who comes from a totally different background; or who represents a point of view you wouldn't normally share?

When did you last, of your own free will, attend an event where a speaker said things that rocked your world a little (or more than a little)?

The web is such a great tool for this - you can expose yourself to a new circle of acquaintances and influences without leaving your office or living room. The time will come, though, when you'll also need to turn some of those cyber-contacts into real-world handshakes, if you're to receive their full benefit.

4. Walk a mile, or two, in someone else's shoes.

Empathy is an essential skill for the leader who is hungry to widen his/her worldview.

It requires listening not just to the content of what another person is telling us, but tuning in to the feelings behind their words. And, having identified those feelings, entering into their world in some meaningful way.

Volunteerism is on the rise in the business world. More and more executives are taking time to invest in social programmes that have little or nothing to do with their normal daily responsibilities.

Why? It's partly because when material security goes down - as in times of recession - moral altruism goes up. When, because of economic tough times, people can no longer securely define who they are on the basis of their earning power, job status or share portfolio, they start looking for other stories to tell.

There is an altruistic streak in all of us, but it comes to the fore when our material security is under threat. We look for bigger narratives into which we can plug our lives; stories that enable us to say, with pride, 'I have value, because I help with this…'

There's another reason why leaders are spending more time (and money) in volunteer projects. They recognize that reaching into the world of those who're less fortunate expands their worldview, making them more sensitive to the impact of change on people at different ends of the socio-economic spectrum.

Martin Luther King Jnr. once said that a person hasn't begun to live until he can put aside his own narrow interests and invest in those of the broader humanity.

'Life's most urgent and persistent question,' he said, 'is this: "What are you doing for others?"'

5. Expose yourself to talented idea-generators.

Biographies, documentary films and biopics are great tools for leaders who want to stretch their worldview.

We tend to emulate those we most admire; but you can't emulate what you don't understand. You may see the end result of someone's journey, but if you're to learn from then you must also understand the steps in their process.

The journey is as important as the end result. Expose yourself to the stories of people who have become engines of new-think; individuals who're leading the way in inventing new paradigms and procedures.

In your reading and your professional life, seek out pioneer leaders and those who know how to ask the difficult, probing question, which might just trigger a breakthrough.

Bottom line: an enduring leader is one with a constantly enlarging worldview - and becoming such a leader is a choice, not happenstance.

Copyright Mal Fletcher, 2009. Published at

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