If you read five leadership books, you will likely find five different perspectives on the skills needed to lead successfully, so it is easy to be confused regarding where to focus your energies. I have been in leadership positions for more than 30 years, have advanced degrees in leadership, and have coached numerous emerging leaders. Regardless of what you may hear or read related to successful leadership, experience taught me that greatest skill leaders can bring to the table is curiosity. Why curiosity?
1. Curiosity means you keep learning
When you think you have all the answers, you quit being curious, you quit learning, and then you start falling behind. Challenge yourself to be curious about at least one thing every day because doing so opens the door to new possibilities. Maybe you’re curious about whether there is a different way to tackle the challenge before you. Perhaps you are interested in one of your 20-something staff members’ perspective on how they would like to see your organization increase its impact. Or maybe you are curious about something that appears to have no direct impact on your work, but may influence your thinking none the less. One thing, every day.
2. Curiosity changes your culture
When staff members see you asking genuine questions (as opposed to gotcha ones), considering “what if” or “what about”, you give them permission to do the same. And when curiosity starts to cascade throughout your organization, look out! Amazing things can happen. The trick for leaders is that building a culture of curiosity means you have to loosen your grip on the reins a bit. If you truly embrace curiosity, you will not know exactly how your organization will go about reaching its end goal. Yes, it is your job to make sure you reach the end goal, but are you willing to let the input of others shape the path, even if it is different than the one you would have taken?
3. A curious culture means your staff can bring their whole selves to work
When staff feel like they don’t have to censor themselves or their ideas, their natural gifts and graces begin to emerge and your organization wins. Effective leaders embrace a diversity of ideas and perspectives — even those that make the leader a bit uncomfortable. It is not necessary (or feasible) to act on every idea, but leaders need to listen and really hear where their people are coming from. Rather than embracing the whole of what someone is suggesting, perhaps there is a single nugget of their idea that moves your goals forward. And as a bonus, your staff members feel heard, validated, and energized to help your organization succeed.
It is easy for leaders to think their ideas or perspectives are the “right ones.” Afterall, we didn’t get to our current position without a lot of wins, right? If we are honest with ourselves, however, those wins were undoubtedly the collective effort of many individuals and ideas.
Want to increase your impact as a leader? Start with a daily dose of curiosity.