How The Art Of Curiosity Transforms Leadership
We’ve all heard “curiosity killed the cat.” Maybe that is one of the reasons that curiosity is not typically the first virtue embraced by leaders today. But it should be—or at least it should be in the top three (along with two other leadership pillars
Einstein said that curiosity had its own reason for existing and that we should never stop questioning. To that, I would add: We must also never stop listening and seeking to better understand. That is how leaders tap into the power of curiosity.
What exactly is the power of curiosity? It fosters greater engagement, motivation and productivity. I didn’t always believe this to be true, but now I do. Curiosity is an art form. It takes practice, but the rewards are worth it.
Be willing to be wrong.
I was about to pitch a new customer offering to a leader who was known for having strong opinions and, therefore, needed to be convinced. This was not my first pitch to this individual; I had previously received a lot of “nos,” but I wasn’t ready to give up. I needed a new approach: curiosity.
First, let me define curiosity.
Curiosity is about letting go of being right. It means going into every discussion, strategy meeting or tough conversation actively curious and open. It means listening and understanding before responding. The result of this approach, if you do it right, will be immediately felt. There will be a positive shift in the dynamic of the room—towards greater openness and buy-in.
Why is this?
Normally, when we go into a meeting, we focus solely on our agenda and goals. We believe that we are in the right, and so we stop listening. This is human nature. Our focus is on that which supports our viewpoint, and in the process, we lose key pieces of information that might prove we’re wrong but also might make the viewpoint stronger.
Most of us have had the experience of telling someone something, and before we’ve even had a chance to finish, the person has jumped in with an opinion or response that actually has nothing to do with what we just said. It’s frustrating, to say the least. This is what happens when curiosity isn’t practiced. I’ve felt it. You’ve felt it. It’s quite common. There’s usually not any ill will behind it. It’s human nature—and can be especially acute in a high-pressured, competitive and distracted world.
Remove the barriers to curiosity.
When you are in a leadership position, there can be a lot of pressure around proving your worth and having all the answers. Unfortunately, this is a barrier to curiosity. Having all the answers doesn’t foster engagement, motivation and productivity, and it certainly doesn’t foster innovation. By asking questions and learning more, you actually add more value than by simply proving you’re right.
Another barrier to curiosity is distraction. With endless pings, rings and notifications on our desktops, cellphones and smartwatches, our ability to be present is severely compromised. Yet being curious depends on the ability to be present. This means not being in our heads during a conversation but actively listening and then reflecting before responding. It’s not always easy. In fact, I have a little tool that helps me stay present, which I’ll share at the end of this article.
A final obstacle to curiosity can be our virtual work environment. Video meetings don’t foster the same kind of openness and vulnerability that in-person meetings can have. As more organizations support hybrid workplaces, leaders have to put a lot more effort into fostering casual, curious conversations and engaging those that are remote. We may very well find that in-person meetings are simply more conducive to the presence and engagement that curiosity needs in order to thrive.
Lead by example.
Leaders can cultivate a culture of curiosity by leading by example. This entails three approaches. First, listen to understand instead of listening to respond. Second, ask a lot of questions. Thirdly, and importantly, let the person know they’ve been heard by reflecting on what they’ve said using their own words.
You don’t have to agree with them, but acknowledging what’s been said and making sure that there’s nothing else they need to say can help create an environment of receptivity and openness where new solutions and alliances can be born. This is gold to team building, talent retention and overall well-being in the workplace.
Go from opinionated to approachable.
Returning to the story of my pitch, I went into the meeting with my new approach of curiosity. Specifically, this meant I was willing to be wrong instead of clinging to my rightness. I actively listened to their opinions. I acknowledged what they said in their own words to let them know that I heard them. I asked if there was anything else they wanted to say. I practiced presence.
The person literally relaxed in front of my eyes. They went from a posture of defense into one of openness and receptivity. And because I wasn’t focused on being right, I ended up offering a totally different perspective than what I had prepared. I was able to take in the information and pivot it into something better. And it worked. From there on out, we were successful in putting our ideas into action.
This is the power of curiosity.
Stick to it.
The art of curiosity is simple but difficult to put into practice. And that’s what it is: It’s a practice. Call me old school, but I keep a sticky note on my computer reminding me to stay curious. It reminds me to pause after listening and ask two questions before I respond.
In fact, I don’t allow myself to say anything unless I’ve come up with at least two questions. The result is that I’m more present, and the conversation is more dynamic, often shifting into new and unexpected directions. Try it, and you’ll see for yourself.
Article link – https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinessdevelopmentcouncil/2023/01/27/how-the-art-of-curiosity-transforms-leadership/?sh=5d1584d4e981