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A curious leader isn’t one that micromanages their people, having to know everything and have a finger in every pie, so to speak. It is not a negative trait whatsoever. A curious leader is someone who is driven to learn more, to continually look forward, seeking new ideas, experiences, and opportunities in order to do things better.
Does any of that sound familiar? Well, it should as thought leadership has been dominated by this talk for years now, that of the importance of business agility in doing business better.
The power of curiosity
The intellectually curious are by nature more entrepreneurial, they don’t accept things the way they are, simply because that is the way they have always been done. They are disruptors and calculated risk-takers always looking for better ways to do things.
Active listening is essential in any leadership toolbox and it is essential in harnessing the power of curiosity. If a leader is authentically engaged with others, their team, peers, tribe, clients, and even competitors, they connect. This means that they are better able to understand them and their needs. This empathy makes them better at nurturing their people and embracing diversity. In supporting others to become the best that they can be and grow, they are investing in the future of the business. And by embracing this, leading by example, they are creating an environment of safety where people can be who they are and valued for what they bring to the table, where there is no such thing as a bad idea.
Being a curious leader does not mean that they have all the answers, far from it. They practice self-awareness, knowing their limitations, and admitting that mistakes are a crucial part of their journey. They ask the right people, the right questions and listen to what they hear.
Creating a legacy of curiosity
Curious leaders are ego-less. They know their strengths and their weaknesses and surround themselves with brilliant people. When I reflect on how things are going, I know that I have achieved my goal, when my team doesn’t actually need my input to realize their goals. And therein lies the beauty of a curious leader, they are not only continually seeking new opportunities and ideas but also actively seeking to help others on their career journeys.
One household name is credited with this quote, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” That household name is Albert Einstein. And look what he achieved, revolutionizing our understanding of space, time, gravity, and the universe. Impressive.
Fostering an environment of curiosity
Boil all of this down and curiosity is simply about asking questions. But they have to be the right ones and the answers have to be heard. Otherwise, the exercise is quite pointless.
Many will struggle with this. Their brains are ingrained with taking the path of least resistance. Yet in taking small steps in the type of questions we ask we can challenge this state and encourage them to change course. We can practice it for ourselves, and we can make it a core value of the business.
Why do we do it this way? What are the alternatives? What could we do to exceed our customers’ expectations? What would happen if we stopped doing it this way? Take me through your thought process. All these are powerful, insightful questions and ones that are on the tip of any curious leader’s tongue. Instead of asking ‘Who is to blame?’ It is asking ‘What can we learn?’ The questions are not defensive or judgmental, they are reflective and forward-thinking.
In connecting curiosity to the values and culture of a business, as with pretty much everything else, it has to be authentic. Leaders need to walk the walk, aligning their behaviors with those they wish to nurture. Disconnects and inauthenticity will be sniffed out with ease.
Creating a culture of curiosity
Leading by example, curious leaders will fuel others to be curious. They will fuel a learning mindset, one which is open to what is possible. And they will fuel a culture that asks more curious questions, seeks to understand other viewpoints, shares goals, and builds connection and trust.
In a constantly evolving world, an agile business, one which can adapt to changing conditions and respond quickly can reinvent itself for sustained growth and success. It doesn’t take one of the greatest physicists of all time to see that curiosity has an elemental role in this. So the question is, how can you be more curious today?