Curiosity Killed The Cat, But It May Help You Survive As A Leader

I’ve long used curiosity as a tool to help me understand what is happening around me.

Now and for the record, a Harvard Business Review and a Price Waterhouse Cooper study confirms that I wasn’t just nosy. Research shows that I was attuned to better leadership.

During the 2011 Slave Lake wildfires, I led the disaster response. There is a normal ebb and flow to disasters, but at a certain point, the data showed that the need for disaster assistance was falling off.

I could have assumed we solved the problem, but something didn’t feel right.

Curiosity forced me to explore the data, and I found that we were missing a new demographic of a client. This resulted in a rejigging of our disaster assistance program to suit the needs of the community.

Click to watch the video of me telling the story.

Why Curiosity Is An Important Leadership Mindset

Consider the following:

  • If you think you know, then you won’t ask.
  • If you think things are a certain way, then you won’t notice changing conditions.
  • When you think you have all the relevant information, then you won’t look for other information.
  • If you feel you have the solution, then you won’t explore different answers.
  • If you think you’re right, then you won’t listen to other people.
  • When you think you know, you won’t ask, see, or hear.

“I think” is a very dangerous leadership stance in a rapidly changing world. Instead, I encourage you to be curious about what you might not know. The worst-case scenario is that you’ll learn something new!

There’s a certain kind of curiosity that’s particularly useful for leaders. Keep reading for five ways to develop this skill.

How To Be ‘Leader’ Curious

Five practices to help you become more curious:

  1. Listen to learn, rather than respond. Most of us listen so we can confirm our opinions, or we only listen so we can respond to objections. Try listening to learn something instead. Silence can be a handy conversational tool. Here are three tips to help you use silence to improve your conversation skills.
  2. Pretend you don’t know the answer. Once you believe that you know, you will stop looking, listening, or testing. But this is precisely what you need to do to spot trends and problems before they arrive.
  3. Hold the tension. When challenged with something that seems impossible, don’t be quick to dismiss the idea. Hold the tension. Get curious. Explore. Everything new was once impossible until someone figured out it wasn’t.
  4. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. The more experience and higher position you have, the more you think you’re the brightest in the room, and you stop learning. However, if you decide that others may have something to offer something you can learn from, then you will. Want to learn how to have better conversations? Here are six essential questions you can ask children and employees.
  5. Think: “I wonder what else?” At best, we only see part of the picture, but not all of it. By asking, “I wonder what else?” you will keep looking, listening, and exploring.

Sure, there is some wasted effort and discussions in the process of being curious.

But at the risk of sacrificing a little efficiency for the sake of exploring, know that innovation and breakthrough rarely arrive in a straight line.

Curiosity will not only save from disaster but will allow you to notice and take advantage of opportunities.

Yes, curiosity is vital. But what is the essential leadership skill? Moral courage. Click here to find out why.

If you’re interested in going even deeper or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

A Curated List of Crisis Leadership Articles
9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)
The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on January 18, 2019, and has been updated.