It’s never hard to find a discussion—in this blog and lots of other places, online and off—of the skills that are required for good leadership. Among the most important is one that surprisingly is rarely mentioned: curiosity, the secret gift of creative people and successful leaders.
Curious people have a beginner’s mind—empty, free, unbiased, and unoccupied with the baggage of trying to be an expert. They’re open to all possibilities and are able to view even the most familiar things from a fresh perspective.
Curious leaders are deep thinkers, great listeners and even better questioners. Here are seven ways to foster your own curiosity:
Embrace what you don’t know. As leaders, we often think we have to serve up all the answers. But the best leaders are comfortable with not knowing. When they don’t know something, they don’t try to fake it. They’re aware of what they don’t know and unafraid to admit it. They’re open to learning new things because they’re free from pretending they already know everything. The best leaders leverage their ignorance to open the door on new knowledge.
Know that everything begins with “why.” Part of my job as a coach is helping people dive deeper into their thinking, and a trick I use with many of my clients is to ask the question Why?— not once or twice, but five or six times in sequence from a single question, going as far as possible into an idea. Asking yourself Why? again and again will challenge you to confront your obstacles, formulate and frame the questions, articulate the issues and go deeper.
Be ready to reframe your thinking. It’s easy in these fast-paced times to feel that you can’t keep up, and from there to become overwhelmed. There’s a certain amount of stability to be gained by sticking to the fundamentals, but eventually the best leaders realize the limits of the lens through which they’ve been viewing the world. From there, they’re ready to construct a whole new frame of reference that will help them face the challenges and opportunities they couldn’t even imagine a few years ago.
Learn to navigate challenges. New challenges are everywhere, and more seem to crop up daily. Navigating change and challenges is a key competency of the best leaders. One helpful mental model consists of asking three questions: Why? What if? and How? Asking Why? helps you understand the challenge. What if? helps you imagine and weigh different solutions, and How? challenges you to take concrete action and maintain accountability. This technique can give you a fresh outlook on problems, challenges and solutions.
Understand that knowledge is becoming obsolete: In an era when information increases exponentially, it’s impossible to retain everything. Effective leaders know what to commit to memory and have the skills to find the rest. And for a curious mind, asking the questions is just as important as finding the answers.
Avoid small-minded questions. If you ask small questions, you’re going to get small ideas that do nothing to advance your thinking. To innovate you have to ask expansive questions. It’s not always easy to do in a business culture where leaders are expected to act as if they know everything and hierarchy is the norm. But newer models emphasizing flexibility, speed and collaborative inquiry are friendlier to the kind of curiosity that asks the big questions.
Step back to move forward. It’s easy to stay caught in a cycle where we’re so focused on our day-to-day issues that we never seem to have time to slow down and really think. Maybe more than any other factor, the pressure of short-term demands shuts out curiosity. That’s why it’s so important that leaders learn to pause and take a couple of steps back. A little distance creates perspective and expands your point of view to take in a bigger picture.
The most important thing a business leader should do today is become the chief question asker. Curiosity leads to creativity, innovation and transformation. The more questions you ask, the more you know and the more effective you will become. And when you take the next step, from asking questions to taking action, that’s where leadership is at its best.
Lead from within: Curiosity is the unexpected quality that makes the difference between a good leader and a great leader.
N A T I O N A L B E S T S E L L E R
THE LEADERSHIP GAP
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness
After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.
Additional Reading you might enjoy:
- 12 Successful Leadership Principles That Never Grow Old
- A Leadership Manifesto: A Guide To Greatness
- How to Succeed as A New Leader
- 12 of The Most Common Lies Leaders Tell Themselves
- 4 Proven Reasons Why Intuitive Leaders Make Great Leaders
- The One Quality Every Leader Needs To Succeed
- The Deception Trap of Leadership
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.