I’ve found that curiosity drives outcomes for many leadership skills in one actionable concept.
Dare to Lead identifies curiosity as a key leadership skill , and I’ve found focusing on curiosity transformational.
Practicing people skills can be difficult. Many important relationship moments are complex and unexpected. They are, by their very nature, difficult to proactively prepare for.
Curiosity can be practiced proactively and intentionally with one simple approach: talk less, ask more questions. This very simple action has proven itself as a driver of many inter-relational skills.
- Patience: When I focus on questions I feel more patient. My goal is not to communicate an idea, but to understand.
- Listening: I believe a good leadership is more about helping others feel heard than being heard. Valuing others over being valued. Curiosity changes my focus to better understanding others over having my ideas understood and recognized.
- Ownership: When the leader focuses on questions, contributors have more space to present and drive their own ideas.
- Learning and Growth: When the leader provides answers or solutions, others are incentivized to agree and fall in line. When the leader asks questions, others are encouraged to bring their ideas and the leader can guide the learning process with their questions.
- Learning over Knowing: Focusing on questions and exploration can tip the incentive toward learning over knowing “right answers”, though it certainly depends on how the questions are handled.
- Awareness of team state: As a leader, it’s easy to overestimate how aligned your team is with your own ideas. The natural incentive is for people not to disagree with and potentially displease those in power over them. This disconnect is destructive and sneaky. Focusing on questions inherently improves your awareness of the team’s thoughts and emotional state.
- Delegation: Effective delegation involves setting motivational outcomes, but leaving space for the implementers to decide how those outcomes are accomplished. Focusing on questions can improve delegation by focusing on motivations and outcomes. Your less likely to be bought into a specific implementation, the whole group will have a better idea of the motivations trying to be satisfied, and (as previously stated) those answering the questions have greater ownership in the work. Ownership and learning also translate into less temptation or need to get directly involved in implementations over time.
- Care: People feel valued when you are genuinely interested in them. Knowing more about them enables more personalized interactions and improves your ability to ask even more questions.
- Consistency: In a way, curiosity can also improve consistency. It’s easier to consistently turn to questions than it is to make consistent decisions for the group. With a curiosity-based approach, you don’t have to have answers. Instead, people can rely on you to be curious and help them find next steps even in situations where there are no clear answers and might never be.
I framed most of these skills in terms of leadership, but they are all valuable whether or not you are in an official leadership position. The secret is that we’re all leaders in some way. Our actions shape our environment, including how other people behave.
Beyond team skills, curiosity also improves adversarial and less familiar relationships. Getting to Yes teaches Principled Negotiation. One of the core tenants of Principled Negotiation is thinking of both parties as being on the same side. Get curious about their needs and how both parties can benefit from the agreement. If both parties can’t benefit, then you probably don’t want an agreement as it will only harm the relationship and your reputation.
The Socratic method, Leading, and Caring was a transformational technique for my teaching. The socratic method is all about asking questions to guide a student’s exploration rather than presenting answers. In other words, a it’s a form of curiosity.
I want to clarify that I don’t think curiosity is a silver bullet or that it comprehensively covers every leadership skill. I believe investment in curiosity has an outsized impact because it factors into so many other relational skills and it is easier to intentionally and consistently practice.