Curiosity is a crucial ingredient in making a leader successful.
The ability to build a high performing team and lead organisations requires many attributes including sound judgment, confidence, authenticity and the vision to take your company forward. And the greatest, it could be argued, is to have curiosity.
As learning and development consultants here at Excel, we sometimes find that clients on our programmes have many great leadership traits.
However, some don’t have that intellectual curiosity that drives an individual to learn more; to continually seek new opportunities and ideas to make things even better.
The potential danger of not exercising your creativity muscle is, of course, that you eventually become stagnated in the same old processes and beliefs. Curious leaders are on the lookout for the novel and the innovative, and they are more likely to push ahead of the competition as a result.
Intellectual curiosity has been described as the desire to invest time and energy into learning more about a person, place, thing or concept.
So, what are the advantages of engaging your intellectual curiosity drive and how does it benefit leaders?
1. They Have An Entrepreneurial Spirit
Curious leaders are not prejudiced. They don’t believe in resting on their laurels, or that something should be done in a certain way, because “it’s always been done that way”.
The entrepreneurial spirit that lives within them makes them (calculated) risk–takers, willing to challenge the status quo.
By continually looking for new and better solutions, the curious leader is open to discovery that leads to higher productivity, better work–life balance, greater business opportunity…the list is endless.
For an entertaining and though-provoking view on taking a risk, see graffiti artist and motivational speaker Erik Wahl’s TED Talk about the Fear Factor.
2. They Are Empathetic
Understanding and willing to connect with others, curious leaders know how to get the best out of the individuals in their team. They are authentically engaged with others, interested in them and their ideas and as such, can access the motivational drive for each team member.
Emotional intelligence allows them to manage their own emotions as well as being conscious of other’s emotions. It allows them to nurture and support their team to enable all individuals to grow by providing inspiration. In other words, leading by example.
Their empathy enables them to actively embrace diversity, which helps avoid homogeneous teams and fosters an environment where stimulating and alternative ideas can be discussed and developed.
3. They Truly Listen To Others
Curious leaders don’t just hear what their employees are saying – they listen. This engaged listening (also known as active listening) means that rather than focusing on your next question, or wondering how soon you can get back to your own work, a leader gives his or her time to an individual, listening to what they have to say to better understand them and their needs.
As well as showing team members that you value their opinions by allowing open discourse, leaders can learn how to get the best out of their team, find out what works and what doesn’t, can become aware of internal problems before they take hold; and sometimes can come across a nugget of inspiration that can turn the wheel of fortune for a whole company and catapult it to the top.
So, you never know what might happen: it’s worth listening to your team.
4. They Are Creatively Curious
Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein
Creativity is at the heart of business. The ability to create something new and innovative is essential to not only get business ideas off the ground but to sustain the momentum that will see companies flourish even when they reach the top echelons of their sector.
Curious leaders have the ability to take a step back from the day to day work with all its draws on time and thought, and question why, what, and how relevant is this? Can we do this better?
These are the creative questions that will provide guidance to exceptional leaders when they are making critical decisions and planning for the future.
5. They Admit When They Are Wrong
Too often, leaders just don’t admit when they are wrong.
From throwing colleagues under the bus to plain refusing to take ownership of their mistakes, ego can get in the way of good leadership. Pride in always being right, or fear of being held accountable and punished in some way – all these factors can trip up an otherwise great leader.
But to admit to mistakes is just part of the learning process. Curious leaders are open to being wrong because they understand that this is the way they can create learning opportunities.
Curiosity enables leaders – and their teams – to allow themselves the possibility of being wrong in order to move forward. So, they are willing to try new ideas and concepts to see if they work – knowing that if not, they will draw a line under it, and move on.
6. They Know Their Limitations
At the very beginning of his career, do you think Jeff Bezos knew everything about the technology that he later used to build Amazon.com? Not likely, is it? It’s more feasible that his curiosity enabled him to ask the right people the right questions.
So, curious leaders know they don’t know all the answers. They have a great willingness to learn and are receptive to new ideas. By questioning their own assumptions, they push the boundaries – and that’s what enables a business to grow.
7. They Seek to Help Develop Others
Curious leaders also know they are not the only horse in the rodeo. As non-egotistical individuals, they embrace others opinions and knowledge and surround themselves with other smart people. They know that with more creativity and expertise come better results.
Additionally, they seek to actively help develop others – be that through training, lifelong learning or mentoring – they want to see others create successful career pathways too.
To be an excellent leader means to embrace disruptive strategies and find unforeseen solutions — solutions that can revive stagnant ideas and systems or can even totally reinvent the dynamics of an organisation.
Curious leaders maintain a positive and agile mindset which allows them to be open to suggestions and differing opinions, to listen to other’s ideas and be prepared to try something new.
They question their own beliefs as well as provide inspiration for their team and thus help build a culture of curiosity which will propel their organisations forward.
Seeing challenge as a positive and being energised by complex or new situations will enable you to build your curiosity muscle and flourish as a truly curious leader too.
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