Several colleagues and I were discussing our views on leadership not long ago. Soon the conversation turned to leadership attributes.
After several rounds of the usual qualities — integrity, transparency, humility, vision, you’ve heard them all. But, for us, curiosity emerged as perhaps the essential attribute of a great leader. After that conversation, I came across this quote from Ozan Varol: “To me, curiosity is a requisite for being fully human.”
Our collective experience is that the leaders we admired had many more questions than answers. And they were more than willing to admit they didn’t know about one topic or another. They expected that their people would know more about the details of their work than the leader did. They had pet phrases that they used frequently: “I am just wondering . . .” or “I’m curious . . .” or “Tell me more about what you’re thinking.”
A vital aspect of this questioning seemed to be that the recipients of the questions did not feel they were being micromanaged. Nor did they think the questions were manipulative. They took the questions at face value and knew they would either learn they were missing information or on the right track. They believed their leader had their best interest at heart — in other words, they trusted their leader.
The above-average leaders we know take a genuine interest in their people. They understand what motivates each individual. They invest time and resources in helping their employees develop as people, not just technical competency. All of this started with curiosity about why their people responded the way they did in any given situation.
Our observation was that great leaders extended their curiosity to the lives of their employees. They tended to know the names of their colleagues’ significant others and their children. They inquired about significant events in their colleagues’ lives.
That same curiosity extends to all stakeholders. Indeed, employees came first for these leaders; but they also had the same propensity for curiosity regarding the marketplace, customers, vendors, and shareholders.
In the end, the consensus of our group of business coaches was that a lack of curiosity causes mediocrity. A great leader is curious about her people, their development, and their engagement in the business. She wonders about the customer and the product or service the customer wants. She inquires about the data she receives, how it is applicable, and how accurate it might be. We conclude that asking relevant questions rather than having all the answers makes a great leader.
How are you at asking questions rather than providing answers? Thanks again for listening to this podcast. Make it a great day.
Dave Kinnear, BCC, CVDC