Earlier this week, I found myself in a great restaurant with unique ambiance and fresh, locally sourced, menu items. Reflecting back now, it was a disappointment. The reason? It was an almost entirely one-sided dialogue of life story, accomplishments (past/present) and future aspirations from my lunch partner – the CEO of a high profile public institution. And while I’m not surprised to encounter this with some folks, I found it disappointing for two reasons.
Firstly, the CEO (we’ll call her “Susan”) had recently received consistent and clear feedback that she needed to do less ‘selling’ of herself and be more inquisitive about the world around her and the people with whom she interacted.
Secondly, our agenda was to specifically discuss Susan’s observations regarding how her direct reports could become more ‘curious’ about what was going on both internally and externally to her company. It seems some key inbound opportunities had been missed over the past year, causing some challenging, reactive and hugely time-consuming recovery efforts.
We’re all born curious, but in our work lives, answers are what’s expected. This can be especially true for leaders since people typically look to them for definitive answers, even when in so many cases the answer is unknown. As a result, over time we often lose our motivation, interest and ability to be curious.
But given today’s complex, volatile and unpredictable business landscape, success requires approaching each day and each opportunity with fresh eyes and an inquisitive spirit. Key leadership competencies such as creativity, innovation and continuous improvement have curiosity as their key ingredient.
So why would leaders, particularly those with lots of experience, want to be more curious and inquisitive? All kinds of good reasons, including…
- Uncovering key assumptions that are real barriers to progress both personally and professionally
- Getting new insights about the way things currently are or could be down the road – resulting in a wider array of choices
- Uncovering creative ideas, practices or applications that may prove hugely beneficial and profitable
- Strengthening relationships by showing a real interest in, and curiosity about, others
- Enhancing collective understanding and decision-making within their teams
As a result, our conversation took a different path, cycling back to the value of inquiry and ways to become more curious. Without much prompting Susan identified a short 5-question checklist to monitor her progress, staring with “Do I”:
- Listen initially to others without assumption or judgement?
- Ask more questions than providing answers when I interact with others?
- Actively solicit feedback regarding my own ability to be curious?
- Allow sufficient time to enable others to ask questions and explore options?
- Say, “I just don’t know” when I don’t have the answer?
Boosting our ‘curiosity quotient’ is vital to success – especially so for leaders in today’s rapidly changing and complex world.