The Curious Leader - An Invitation From The Other Side

What is curiosity?

Why is it directly relevant to leadership?

Why is curiosity identified as one of the top five strengths most highly associated with life fulfillment?

What has it got to do with mastery?

How do you improve your curiosity quotient?

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” – Walt Disney

Become a little curious about curiosity?

Thinking is a process of asking questions then answering them. It all starts with a question, with curiosity – noticing and being drawn to what you find interesting about other people, places, objects, events or yourself.

Why is curiosity important?

We become interested in something. We pay attention to it. Our hunger to know is greater than the uncertainty of not knowing. We explore, discover and learn. It’s satisfying so we repeat it.

By repeating it, our web of knowledge and skills develop. We integrate our skills and knowledge into our identity – which is mastery.

Children are intensely and broadly curious. A toddler so craves to learn about their world that their parents have to be ever watchful to ensure they don’t come to harm. An adolescent seeks out experiences to establish their own identity. Curiosity is crucial driver for their mental and physical development.

But what happens to curiosity as an adult? It tends to narrow and, hopefully, deepen, become more specific.

In what areas do you have the most questions, have you always had the most questions? Where do your highest levels of natural curiosity and fascination lie? These indicate your greatest sources of meaning and satisfaction: your interests, hobbies and passions.

While being passionate about something naturally pushes us to know as much as we can about it, but it also works the other way around: The more curiosity we can muster for something, the more likely we are to notice and learn about it, and the more interesting and meaningful it becomes.

This is true of people, books, sports, skills and conversations. Often, the more curiosity and energy we invest in exploring and understanding them, the more compelling they become.

Leadership and Curiosity

So therein resides one of the main responsibilities as a leader. To understand, recognise and develop our own sense of curiosity but also to foster an environment where others feel free to be curious.

The mantra for leadership was ‘’Don’t tell, ask’ then it became ‘Don’t tell, inquire’. To develop an ecology of curiosity, it needs to shift again, to ‘Don’t tell, curiously re-inquire’.

The more questions we have, the higher the engagement level. Imagine introducing a topic at a staff meeting then challenging every person to generate at least three questions about that topic before you proceed. Go around the group one by one then work with the most penetrating (or interesting) question.

Or having a short project review meeting made up of only questions around a particular issue.

Or beginning each day with three key questions you want to have answered.

Or when preparing for a meeting (report or whatever), write down at least ten questions about the topic - before you begin.

Curious people remember what they learn longer.

Curious people take more away from new / novel experiences.

Curious people make more informed and robust decisions.

Curious people have a tendency to challenge the accepted norms.

Curious people are more creative and innovative

Only when we have actually developed this lost art in ourselves, and engaged others in the concept of curiosity, can we derive the real benefits of any creative process or initiative.

Applying Curiosity to Problem Solving

Emotionally, we feel negative about problems; they are black holes for our energy. They suck up and pre-occupy our attention, which makes it harder to think of creative solutions. We can even deflect a friend’s helpful advice because we are so fixated on the problem.

To broaden this narrowing effect and get fully engaged, become highly curious about the problem. “Wow, this is a really interesting problem. It won’t be a simple solution; a web of solutions will be needed.”

Getting interested moves you towards a solutions-focus.

Edward de Bono, a master in creating tools for creative thinking, suggests using a dictionary. Turn to any page and pick a word at random. Then ask, “How does this relate to this problem?”

In a team meeting, you could produce a paper bag with various random objects and ask, “How might this be a metaphor for the problem and the solution?” Intrigue and interest resets the team into problem solving mode.

Curiosity is the precursor to creativity and innovation

Curiosity can help us achieve inner fulfillment and so make us happier

Curiosity can improve our and our team’s problem solving skills

Curiosity can lead to improved employee satisfaction and thus productivity

Curiosity is the foundation of discovery and exploration

Curiosity is all about asking Why?

Curious people live longer and have a more active life

Improving your Curiosity Quotient

We all experience some level of resistance while trying something new. The only difference is that curious people break through this barrier more easily by entering the unfamiliar territory often. So regularly push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Observe and Explore: Question with the intense curiosity of a six year old. Tune into a person, actively listen and allow your questions to flow naturally, to intuitively bubble up. Practise asking strings of 8+ questions at a time (without the other person noticing).

Apply Challenging Questions: Here are several I use:

  • What three (or five) new things are there about ….this person / this situation?
  • How might I be wrong? How might 'it' be, other than the way I see it?

Experiment: Dabble with different things, talk to different people, go to different places. Explore your creative side, try different crafts. Try different foods or recipes. Read different books.

Teach something new: this ensures your new learning is not simply dismissed but reformed coherently. Have your staff members teach each other.

Have ‘Sherlock Holmes’ attend every meeting: someone whose job is only to identify what was interesting / curious about a particular focus point. Then ensure these points get discussion time.

Curiosity is a powerful stimulant. It invites us to a different place; to the other side of ‘what’s known’ to where discovery and fresh insight reside. Truly an essential trait for any leader.