Curiosity (or lack of it) Killed the Leader

May 24, 2011 — Leave a comment

One of the most crucial aspects of leadership is curiosity.

Curiosity presses into the unknown with playful willingness. Curiosity notices big things and little things. Curiosity fuels connections and creativity.

Curiosity is essential to authentic leadership in a knowledge economy. And it can be risky.

I’m not talking about false bravado or “take this hill or die trying” or “let’s bet the whole organization on this killer project” type of leadership. Unmitigated risk-taking doesn’t reflect true faith or appropriate respect for partners in the mission.

I am talking about the courage to risk asking hard questions about uncomfortable topics, then allowing others the space and safety to honestly answer. When teammates do this, we make room for the Spirit of God to work. We open the windows and let fresh air into the room. We move away from groupthink behaviors (such as silently nodding in agreement when we have evidence or convictions to the contrary, or worse, believing that because we’ve been together for so long we can’t possibly fail) toward a healthy, if temporarily uncomfortable, embrace of reality.

Last week during a team meeting, one of my mates took a courageous risk by asking two hard questions – about my leadership of the team. By God’s grace I was able to listen. I received both encouraging and uncomfortable feedback regarding some recent decisions I’ve made and actions I’ve taken. The next day I asked Paul, my coach, to help me discover some of the gaps between my intentions and the impact I was having on a few folks. We’re all better off because someone took a risk.

Here’s a quote from two of my favorite leadership authors that captures the spirit of curiosity:

“Leaders peek behind the curtain to see what’s hiding there. They see the future as a picture puzzle and figure out how all the pieces fit together. Envisioning the future is about paying attention to the little things.”

—from The Leadership Challenge, 4th Edition by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

What question are you waiting to ask that might open up some new conversation with your family? In your job? In your own personal attitudes or behaviors? Ask it, and don’t be afraid to chase the truth.

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