Far too often, the higher one moves in the organizational chart, the less curious we become. It is not hard to see how it happens. Presumably, a person is promoted or given more responsibility because of a track record of good decisions. This can lead to growing confidence that the leader knows what is “right” for the organization. And over time, amid a hectic pace and growing responsibilities, it is easy to start simply assuming one’s perspective is the best one — you are the leader, afterall — and so you start asking fewer questions, believing you (in all your wisdom) understand the situation. Or maybe you somehow think asking questions, or listening to those with a different perspective, make you look weak or indecisive. The irony is, those things actually strengthen your leadership impact. How?
- “Help me understand” opens the door for an exchange of ideas. It invites people who may have a different perspective to engage with you in a dialog. Leaders often fail to recognize how much their position in the organization is a barrier to the free exchange of valuable information that is readily available. That’s why you have to ask. Yes, such conversations can be uncomfortable . . . your view of things may be challenged . . . and yet, when you are willing to sit in that discomfort you encourage the free flow of information, which is key in making good decisions.
- “Wondering” prompts people to consider perspectives they otherwise wouldn’t. It provides a context for understanding behavior without passing judgment. Genuinely asking, “I wonder why they would do that . . .” is a way to begin unearthing motivations (which might be three steps back from actions) so you can respond to the cause, not just the symptom, which ultimately increases your long-term effectiveness.
- “How can we improve?” fosters innovation — which many organizations talk about but far too few intentionally pursue. Your current success, understandably, builds confidence in your processes and approach. However, that confidence is often the biggest deterrent to the curiosity that spurs break-through innovation. Why invest in “fixing” what isn’t broken? Because if you don’t, someone else will. Your organizational systems are designed to maintain the status quo, so it takes intentional questioning on the part of the leader to stay ahead of the curve.
That is the genius of curiosity . . . it allows you to make better decisions, increase your long-term effectiveness and stay ahead of the curve. Why wouldn’t a leader want to do that?
I’m curious. What do you think?