When you think of the traits of a great leader, does curiosity come to mind? Interestingly enough, a curious leader is one who will find ask the questions that lead to innovation and unique perspectives about problems that have stumped those before.
Albert Einstein said:
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
Harvard Business Review reports that people with a higher “curiosity quotient” (CQ) are more inquisitive and generate more original ideas, and this “thinking style” leads to higher levels of knowledge acquisition over time. CQ, the author states, “is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.”
Leadership coach, speaker, and author Art Petty says, “In the right environment, curiosity leads to experimentation. Experimentation is the foundation of innovation.”
He adds an unique personal angle: “I once worked for a leader who lived and led by his curious nature. His questions about our customers, competitors, and processes reflected his pure sense of wonder. Instead of stressing us out, they fed our curiosity and subsequent explorations. A few of those explorations yielded great treasure. All of them taught us to think critically and avoid becoming prisoners inside our own four walls (or industry, or business model).”
Most of us size up and make assumptions as we listen to others. Curious people, on the other hand, have no hidden agenda, says Taberner. They seek to understand the perspectives of others, and are willing to sit in ambiguity, open and curious without being invested in the outcome.
The ability to shelve a sense of being right in favor of being open to the insights and opinions of others is a trait of curious people, says Sue Heilbronner, cofounder and CEO of MergeLane, an accelerator program that focus on female-run companies.
Curious people are always seeking new knowledge by engaging in conversations. When asked a question, they aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t have an answer, says LeeAnn Renninger, coauthor of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected. “It’s more important for them to learn than to look smart,” she says.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. Zora Neale Hurston
As a leader, we may feel the need to appear to know it all, to have the answers and that asking questions may seem a sign of insecurity or a lack of ability to lead when in fact, it is the opposite. Asking questions is actually the way curious leaders learn more about topics they are unfamiliar with and also to learn new approaches to current situations.
In the Harvard Business Review article, Why Curious Leaders are Destined for the “C” Suite” the author shares information from “curiosity” expert Ian Leslie:
Ian Leslie, author of the book Curious notes that curiosity seems to bubble up when we are exposed to new information and then find ourselves wanting to know more. Hence, the would-be curious leader should endeavor to get “out of the bubble” when possible; to seek out new influences, ideas, and experiences that may fire up the desire to learn more and dig deeper.
Even when operating within familiar confines, curious leaders tend to try to see things from a fresh perspective. The ones I studied in my research seemed to have a penchant for bringing a “beginner’s mind” approach to old problems and stubborn challenges. They continually examined and re-examined their own assumptions and practices, asking deep, penetrating “Why” questions, as well as speculative “What if” and “How” questions.
Are you a curious leader? Do you feel comfortable asking questions, learning about new techniques, new industries, new points of view? Embrace your curious nature – it may be the ticket necessary to take you to the top of your field.
JJ DiGeronimo, a speaker, author and thought-leader for Women in Tech and Girls and STEM, empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract Women in Technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.
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