…when Curiosity is stoked."
As we continue to explore the soft skills required for effective 21st Century Leadership, adaptability will always be near the top of the list. However, adaptability begins with the ability and openness to explore and experiment. Effective leaders need to be curious enough to think beyond their existing individual and cultural norms and habits. Doing so begets the creativity Neil Blumenthal refers to in the title quote. But it's not curiosity for the sake of being curious. Rather, it is curiosity aligned with the leader's purpose to keep their team, organization, business or agency relevant in a very dynamic operating environment!
It is true there are people who come by curiosity naturally. Artists, engineers, scientists, futurists are a few examples of functions where natural curiosity helps them challenge existing norms and "push the envelope". But what of those leaders who may not come by curiosity easily (or at least don't think they do)? They too can exercise curiosity by being consciously aware of the need to evolve and look ahead on the horizon that defines their industries and markets.
In our experience working with both naturally curious and not-so-naturally curious leaders, we discovered several key ideas and themes that help stoke curiosity that can be skills exercised by anyone:
- Don't confuse knowing with learning ~ In the technology-infused and time-challenged world leaders work in, the tendency is to "know" to solve the issue directly in front of them. With easy access to information, the ability to know can easily overshadow the desire to "learn" from the issue. Learning leaders become exponentially more knowledgeable with each new learning opportunity. They consciously make time to create meaning from the issue thus creating learned experience. Over time learning leaders have a much greater capacity to make effective time-sensitive decisions than those who simply look online to know what to do next!
- Ask questions, no matter what ~ Truly effective leaders understand the power of thoughtful open-ended questions. They ask questions in every situation, not just the ones where they do not get the answer they are initially looking for. Typically, when leaders hear any version of "no" in a discussion they will naturally launch into discover and solve mode and start asking questions around "why not". However, when leaders hear some version of "yes", the tendency is to move on because they heard the answer they originally wanted. Effective leaders in this situation will still ask questions to learn what is behind the answer. One of my favorites is, "Based on what?" as it works regardless of whether I like the original answer or not and provides great insights into the thinking process behind the answer!
- Engage followers in the curiosity process ~ It may seem intuitively obvious, but engaging followers through a leader's own curiosity will ultimately increase the overall curiosity of the followers themselves. Like anything cultural, whatever the leader actively models and socializes with followers ultimately defines the norms of the followers. As the followers become more curious with purpose, they become more adaptable to change and more comfortable making decisions around more complex issues. Of course, the leader must be comfortable with more curious followers given not all the ideas will work. It is a leadership balance between thinking like a hyper-curious startup mixed with that of a mature, efficient business!
With the business environment changing at an ever-increasing pace, innovation has become a common refrain for every business, corporation or agency to stay relevant. In order to innovate, a leader must think differently in order to achieve different results. Curiosity is the catalyst for thinking differently by both the leader and their followers. By making curiosity an operational component of the culture, new ideas will always rise to the surface such that the team, organization, business or agency achieves their desired growth goals!
How are you stoking curiosity from your followers?