Curiosity and Leadership: The Power of Being a Curious Leader

February 6, 2024

In the realm of leadership, curiosity is a potent yet underrated asset.

The simple act of “seeking first to understand rather than to be understood” can have a profound impact on our ability to deliver impactful strategic results whilst balancing a strong team dynamic. As leaders, we’re entrusted not only with making decisions – but also with understanding the nuances that underpin our choices. To do this effectively we need to get clear on the problem we’re trying to solve, our options for addressing it and the relative impacts of taking one course of action versus another. This requires getting curious and involving other people in the process. 

Great leaders understand that greater outcomes can be achieved when they both examine the reasoning behind a decision, understand its potential consequences and communicate effectively with those who are impacted.

Let’s take a couple of examples: Imagine if as Head of Marketing you suddenly decided to launch a new product offering within a seriously tight timeframe without considering the impact on other inflight work? What’s the effect on your team AND on broader outcomes? Or perhaps as CEO, you realise that costs have blown out and decide that redundancies are the fastest solution to remaining sustainable. What effect will that have on the people who remain or your ability to deliver current services?

Effective leaders ensure they are not simply sitting at the surface of their responsibilities to a company or its people. Instead, they use curiosity to empower their decisions, digging deeper to understand the consequences of their actions, whilst building clarity and trust with their teams.

Embracing curiosity therefore means taking the time to ask questions, actively listening to what people are saying, and empathetically delving into diverse perspectives.

Why does this matter? 

It matters because curiosity is more than a quest for knowledge—it’s a catalyst for deeper understanding and connection. It’s about unlocking insights, identifying blind spots, and fostering an environment where trust thrives.

By adopting a mindset of curiosity, we open doors to being surprised. Asking questions not only enriches our understanding of a situation but also uncovers gaps in our thinking. It additionally offers pathways to innovation, growth, and stronger engagement from stakeholders.

Moreover, curiosity nurtures trust. When we show genuine interest in others’ viewpoints and experiences, we cultivate an atmosphere of respect and inclusivity. It fosters an environment where diverse ideas flourish, creativity blooms, and teams feel empowered to contribute meaningfully.

Why is this of value to you and your people?

  1. It reduces ambiguity: by being curious not only will you close gaps in your own understanding, but you will identify where there are disconnects amongst your team and organisation that you can then proactively address.
  1. It strengthens relationships – curiosity translates into care. If I’m not curious about your perspective on a topic, what you are feeling, or the type of support you need, I am effectively telling you “I’m not actually interested.” When someone is curious it demonstrates a genuine concern that in turn supports trust building. 
  1. Better outcomes: with less disconnects in understanding and higher levels of trust and motivation, you will experience better outcomes. Your people will be better equipped to focus on what’s important, not only because they will understand your priorities but trust the reasoning behind them. 

Putting curiosity into practice

If you are wanting to build this mindset into the way you lead there are a few things you can do:

  1. Mindful decision-making: when making a decision, actively consider the impact that it will have. Who is going to be affected and how? What do people need to understand about the decision and why it’s being made? How are they expected to respond? This will enable you to pre-emptively consider broader implications and plan accordingly. 
  1. Conscious communication: following directly on from this, you need to consider what, when and how you are going to communicate your decision. Not only do you need to think about the who, what, when why, how and ‘what if’ of your messaging (see the 4-MAT model for more on this approach) you also need to consider a) the mode of communication – e.g. what is the right channel to use (slack, email, video, in-person?), b) who needs to be included and c) what’s the right timing? Again, taking the time to think this through will allow you to identify and address potential issues with your messaging. 
  1. Asking questions: a key part of communication and curiosity is asking good questions. Don’t simply press “send” and think job done! That’s just the beginning. You need to follow-up to ascertain whether your message was received in the way you expected. Do people have further questions? What support do they require to take action? How will they be supported? What if they get stuck or aren’t on board?  It’s only by being curious that you will figure this out. 

You can apply these steps to both far-reaching and more contained decisions. For example, if you have a decision that impacts a specific individual in your team you still need to go through the same process, simply on a smaller scale than doing it for your team or your organisation. 

Become a conscious leader… 

Why not challenge yourself to bring more curiosity into your leadership. Embrace the transformative power of asking questions, strive to dig a little deeper, and cultivate a culture where curiosity is valued, and where trust and innovation thrive.

If you are looking to add more structure around your curiosity, there are various tools, models and techniques that can support and strengthen your leadership practice. Aligning with an executive coach who understands this space is a powerful first step. Our team at Thrive Executive work with senior executives, supporting them to become more conscious and effective leaders. If this is the direction you would like to explore – let’s talk.

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