Curiosity: Vitamin C for Today’s Leaders

IN ORDER TO COME UP WITH CREATIVE SOLUTIONS IN THE MIDST OF RAPIDLY CHANGING MARKETS, LEADERS MUST INSPIRE IN THEIR TEAMS THE URGE TO LEARN.

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it’s the only thing that can keep leaders alive in today’s world. And I’m not talking about polite, tea party curiosity, either. I’m talking about CURIOSITY! Curiosity on steroids. Flaming, no-holds-barred fascination with other people’s thoughts.

Curiosity has become the new vitamin C for leaders ever since digital technology created a video game-like economy that causes market conditions to mutate in ways that can’t be anticipated. This blurring collision of variables creates a future that is far too complex for any one brain to comprehend, requiring leaders to proactively seek out and inform their approaches with new perspectives.

So how can you tell if you’re getting enough of this new kind of vitamin C to maintain healthy leadership practices, both for yourself and your critical teams? Here are three sure signs of a curiosity deficiency, as well as ways to overcome them:

A single person (typically the CEO) emotionally dominates the group:

This domination can be either positive or negative, with the CEO serving as a “heroic tyrant” who causes everyone else to merely listen in awed silence, or simply acting like an old-fashioned bully. In either case, the CEO must be willing to make room for others in the meeting. Not only will this give team members a chance to exercise their own curiosity, but it also serves the CEO to add new points of view to his or her own understanding of problems.

Leadership teams don’t want to meet:

If teams see their meetings as a waste of time, it’s a sure sign that either they don’t value curiosity enough or that their meetings are ill-suited to foster intellectual exploration and collaboration. Teams may cite a variety of other reasons, such as personality clashes or poor session structure, but these problems can only derail meetings that are not driven by an urge to learn. Good meetings are full of surprises, which expose unexpected ideas and force people to adapt together, rather than rely on their own, individual preparation.

Leaders pathologically avoid conflict:

Again, there can be many causes for leadership to skirt confrontation, ranging from an overly “nice” organizational culture to the fear of punishment. However, truly curious teams see friction as an opportunity to learn and improve, and therefore never feel comfortable shying away from it. To help yourself tap into your curiosity, surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to ask you probing questions. Their challenges will help you bring out intelligence you didn’t know you had. To help your teammates do the same, set the example yourself by asking them to clarify their ideas and points of views until you both understand them better.

For more executive coaching tips that can help you unlock your potential as a leader, consult with the O’Brien Group.