What separates a great executive from an average manager is the ability to learn to do things differently and more effectively.
Unfortunately, the day-to-day needs and doldrums of repetition in every work environment often wear us down. To be the leaders we want to be, we need to exercise our minds.
Here are four quick lessons on how to do that:
1. Search for analogies. An incredible amount of information flows through our lives every day. The more you can be attuned to how seemingly disparate situations can inform your own circumstances, the more likely you will translate those situations into learning opportunities. When you can see broad themes, you can define problems – and their best solutions – much more easily. See the forest; not just the trees.
2. Get out of your comfort zone. Go new places, meet new people, do things you've never done before. The brain is stimulated by fresh data. Talk to the check-out clerk about what makes his or her day, drive a different route home, order a meal you've never tried before. Make the routine new. Change stimulates the brain and encourages you to search for new ways of doing things more often.
3. Ask questions. While we think others want us to know the answer, what we all really want is to be asked what we think. Plus, asking questions raises awareness of what's important in any given situation. It broadens our repertoire of tools and forces us to consider options we hadn't before.
4. Connect with others outside of your box. One of the best ways to solve problems is to find out how others solved similar problems in different environments. Talk with people from different backgrounds, industries and cultures to exercise areas of your brain that have lain dormant for years. Cast your net of experiences further and further from your home base to encourage broader thinking and deeper insights.
Don't forget that your brain is a muscle too. It's not enough to skip lunch and head to the gym to get the full benefits of exercise. To be an effective leader, exercise your brain more often. Your team – and your brain – will thank you for it in the long run.