As a leadership coach, I am always contemplating "what are the attributes that hold leaders in good stead?" Are there particular behaviours that really make a significant difference? When we consider what great leadership looks like, I identify with words like vision, positive energy, growth, clarity, listening, openness, empowering, self-awareness, humility, respect for others, and so many more. Great leaders can make sense of chaos. They have a vision and communicate that with clarity. They grow people and bring them on the journey. They create the setting for people to do their best work. They positively challenge them to achieve success however the organisation they are part of might define it. For quite a while, I've also been curious about curiosity and it's role in leadership.
When I was a child, I recall a book called "Curious George". It was about a curious little monkey who always used to get up to mischief. The underlying message from the book to me seemed to be that if you were too curious you will end up in a tight spot, maybe even trouble; and if you're lucky the man with the yellow hat will turn up just in time to save you! Then there's the old saying "curiosity killed the cat".
But from my experience working with leaders from different industries, functional areas, and levels in organisations, I think curiosity might just be one of the most important behaviours to develop to really excel in leadership in this fast moving world in which we live. Why? Well, with curiosity, we tend to be open to possibilities. That curiosity allows us to let our ego take a back seat, see what arises and be open to the views of others. Leaders I've seen who exhibit curiosity provide the space for their teams to explore and create, and they listen; all of which invites innovation. When we operate from a place of genuine curiosity, we suspend judgement and instead ask questions to learn and understand. Curiosity then is critical to effectively coach our team members, and also an essential mindset to bring to decision making. When we jump to conclusions or bring pre-conceived ideas, we invariably compromise the quality of decisions we make. When we bring judgement to coaching, we are not coaching at all, we're directing in disguise.
So my question is "how do you exhibit curiosity in your leadership?". If the answer is not as often as you would like, consider these techniques to explore your curiosity:
1. Get skilled at asking open questions. We don't need to know everything, nor can we. One of the biggest derailers I see leaders come up against in their careers is the belief that they should know, and as a result an unwillingness to be vulnerable. Asking questions doesn't make you weak. Indeed, asking questions helps build relationships as people feel listened to. It also helps create a culture of learning when the leader does not try project an image of perfectionism and all knowing, but instead is willing to explore. We live in a world of constant change and increasing complexity. Asking great questions is a critical leadership skill to develop.
2. Make a point of engaging with people who have different views to you. Consciously seek out different viewpoints and perspectives. It's human nature to want to "hang with your tribe", to spend time with people who think similarly to you. We grow by spending time with people who challenge our thinking, who bring an entirely different perspective.
3. Embrace a "beginner's mind". Shoshin means beginner's mind Zen Buddhism. It is having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. When we explore a situation from an expert perspective, we naturally limit the possibilities open to us.