Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This past week, I visited the University of Virginia that was beginning to celebrate its bicentennial — what history the university has. From the laying of the cornerstone in 1817 through the Civil War, it remained the second largest university in the U.S. only behind Harvard. Founded by Thomas Jefferson after his presidency, it was unique in that Jefferson wanted to diverge from common thinking of the day with regards to college thinking. He wanted to open up the liberal arts and the sciences, allowing students to study so many more topics than were presently being taught for a rapidly growing America. Jefferson aimed to teach such diverse fields as Astronomy, Architecture, Botany, Philosophy, and Political Science. He explained, “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Today you can see the imprint his vision had on the school with the iconic rotunda built to house the library (Jefferson donated his own library to the school) and the lawn holding a number of attached buildings meant for the distinguished professors who would teach each one of the new disciplines. It was a bold vision that continues today. The University of Virginia was the first school to establish a School of Engineering, for example.
Author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s leadership credentials are well known. As I toured the school, it reminded me how important it is for leaders to broaden their horizons. Jefferson could have stayed an even course after the Revolutionary War, but he was always looking at ways to look over the next hill from the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to the founding of this school in the last years of his life. It is a leadership lesson all leaders should heed.
Author Stephanie Mead in her blog, “Broadening Your Horizons: Developing Open-Mindedness as a Leader,” makes the point there are two facets for leaders to broaden horizons:
1. Keeping an open mind when solving problems, evaluating decisions, dealing with change, and addressing current business issues.
2. Being mindful, informed, and impartial about the things happening in the world that may have broader or longer-term implications.
The ideal of open-mindedness is clear particularly when solving difficult problems. The challenge remains staying open-minded when day to day problems keeps us focused on the mundane. A second challenge is that new paths and new ways of doing business involve more risk, a huge barrier to staying on the path of adventure and new ideas. Mead writes: “Open-mindedness unleashes people’s creative potential and improves the likelihood they will achieve the results they desire. We have nearly unlimited potential — we just have to harness our own genius, embrace different possibilities, and have the courage to look at things in a different way.”
To truly stay open-minded, leaders need look at issues from all sides and have periods of intensity and recuperation of thought to keep things fresh. Having just visited the University of Virginia, it reminded me the importance of originality. Entering my fourth year of leading Leadership Spokane, are we caught in anything mundane? Are there any new areas to expand…any areas do we modify? These are questions for my staff and I to discuss with the Board of Directors. Looking at new horizons is the mandate for any good leader. It is part of the job description even though it is a most challenging task indeed. Thomas Jefferson was one leader who broadened horizons his whole life and our freedoms plus the legacy of institutions like the University of Virginia are gifts he left us for his visionary mind. On his tombstone, Jefferson asked for only three remembrances: the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and the Founder of the University Virginia. In each pursuit, Jefferson was open minded and had very broad horizons. All leaders should broaden their horizons. After all, the sky’s the limit!
The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment. ~ Tony Robbins