When talking leadership for Country Guide, female trailblazers have repeatedly told me it was a real benefit to them that they had a curious parent in their earlier years. They also rank their own curiosity as a key contributor to their success.
The value of curiosity also came up repeatedly when I spoke to global leaders in food for my independent research. These leaders described curiosity as the foundation for continual growth in their leadership capability.
Throw the book out!
In looking at leadership in the past, Canadians have relied on American publications that saw success as a measurable thing. They defined an accomplished leader as one who meets concrete targets or who has a large following.
In my leadership studies and in my own business life, I never really fit into those definitions. You may not either. It’s why I set about exploring leadership by interviewing well-regarded men and women about their experience.
One of the attributes they honoured was curiosity, by which they meant both being curious themselves, and leading curious teams.
Get in on a great conversation
I think of great conversationalists I have met in my time. These were folks who knew how to visit, how to interact and ask questions, how to make you feel important through the conversation.
The foundation for the curious leader is threefold:
The curious leader asks questions with the intent of actually listening to the answers and acting on that information.
The curious leader is open to a wide diversity of thought.
The curious leader accepts and welcomes those on their teams and in their families who challenge the status quo and have a different way of looking at things.
You are not curious if you do not welcome diversity, if you are not ready for difficult conversations, and if you are not willing to let people try new things.
Damage is done when you do not listen deeply, or when you do not provide a timely response. Respect from team and family members can be lost. As a leader, you must be ready to respond.
Learn from real experience
In conversation with truly astounding leaders I have not once heard them refer to training or books as the foundation for their skill. Instead, their leadership ability came mainly from being in the trenches, from making mistakes, and from being accountable for the team’s actions.
It also came from being able to find creative and collaborative solutions, from facing extraordinary challenges, and from listening to multiple stakeholders.
These leaders could come up with a plan and still be vulnerable enough to keep asking questions.
Many experiences that leaders have are transformational in nature. They may come through volunteering with those less fortunate, perhaps, or during a crisis at work that is costly in terms of profit, lives or reputation. Or maybe an incident at home opens the doors for a new look at life. Those are just some of the examples of where transformation can occur.
While it used to be experience in the boardroom that counted, now it is experience in life that is valued. When combined with authentic empathy, you have the bones of a curious leader.
Walk this way
Empathy is that ability to step into the shoes of someone else. More importantly, my research revealed that these great leaders were concerned about walking not in front or in the back of their family or teams, but in step beside them.
This is a new look at leading and throws all reference to tribes and drivers of performance out of the window.
Thinking about it, how can you be curious if you aren’t asking questions that your team is close enough to hear? How can those you lead feel validated if your approach is to herd them from behind?
Getting a team or family member to “meet performance targets” or “finish that field before you eat” does not inspire or empower them as stakeholders in the process.
Walking beside is saying: What are your thoughts on meeting the performance targets that we share the responsibility for meeting?
Listening to the answer and coming to a solution through this collaborative approach keeps the team inspired and helps them feel part of the goal. In the field, you can walk beside your team member and ask: How can I help you finish this field?
Inspiration works both ways. A curious leader will feel inspired when their team or family presents new avenues of thinking and doing.
My leaders shared that it is important to know and understand yourself and your leadership style well enough to lead authentically.
To truly be curious you must be real, you must have humility and you need a keen understanding of the cohesive nature of learning and performance.
There is a term for this. It is called intellectual humility.
There is always room for curiosity. Regardless of the goal in your family or team, there is space. In walking beside and in learning with your family and team, the curious leader builds resilience and invites growth. It takes courage, humility and acceptance to be curious in leadership.
The curious leader is willing to invite diverse thought with the intent of listening and acting upon those ideas in a collaborative way, inspiring and empowering families and teams.