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  • Writer's pictureNancy Dering Mock

The Curious Leader

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

In a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), savvy leaders understand the importance of being attuned to an ever-changing landscape. Competition changes, skills change, technology changes, people change. Knowledge of "what was" may be overtaken and supplanted by the knowledge necessary for "what might be."

Leaders who are continuously curious show an active desire to understand things. They demonstrate eagerness to learn new things. They are open to the changes unfolding before them and their teams and are eager to learn (and perhaps unlearn) what it will take to adapt.

How do they demonstrate and instill curiosity?

  1. Start by being more curious than certain. Curious leaders understand that they are not infallible. They understand that they may not have all the answers, or see things from all angles. They suspend their own judgment and sharing "the right answer" until after having invited perspectives from others. They are open to the humbling reality that they may not have all the answers.

2. Use open-ended questions. Curious leaders engage others through questions

designed to stimulate analytic thinking. "What do you think are the significant causes of

this situation?" "What have you observed as the consequences of this policy?" "Where

would you start in crafting a solution?" These questions not only challenge others, but

often produce the knowledge and insights the leader seeks.

3. Challenge unchallenged assumptions. Curious leaders challenge themselves and

others to reject acceptance of "how things are" or "how things have always been."

When problem solving, they inject these challenges: "Since when?," "Who says?," and

"Why not?" and in doing so, challenge the status quo. This sets the stage for exploring

what might be.

4. Spark imagination. Curious leaders avoid boxing people into to solutions

prematurely. They tap into the creativity and imagination of themselves and others by

asking questions like "What if?", What do you picture?," "What if it were possible to...?"

Unrelenting in their inquisitiveness, they push themselves and others to explore

possibilities instead of limiting them.

Curious leaders have a genuine desire to know and learn new things. They ask. They explore. They investigate. They challenge. And, they engage their team in this process of discovery and learning as well, instilling the spark of curiosity and paving the way for exploring possibilities.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. Discuss the distinction between being "curious" and being "nosey."

  2. How can leaders help their teams overcome the "but we've always done it this way" syndrome? Give specific examples.

  3. Imagination is not a word heard very often in organizations, yet it can be a powerful resource in exploring and inventing possibilities. How have you seen imagination sparked with surprising results?

  4. What are the implications for leaders? For you?

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