Authentic curiosity is the key to business success

Joanna Swash believes good leaders are those who are curious and are always searching for better ways to do things.

Authentic curiosity is the key to business success

Curiosity has traditionally been associated with danger, nosiness and downright intrusiveness. We have been taught that being overly inquisitive will lead us into dangerous situations – but not any longer.

A curious leader isn’t one that micromanages their people. It isn’t a leader who has to know everything or have a finger in every pie. A curious leader is driven to learn more, to continually seek new ideas, experiences and opportunities. They want to do things better and are always on the lookout for new and improved ways of achieving this.

The intellectually curious are, by nature, more entrepreneurial. They don’t accept things the way they are; simply because that is the way they have always been done. They are disruptors and calculated risk-takers who are always looking for better ways to do things.

Active listening is an essential item in any leadership toolbox. It is essential for harnessing the power of curiosity. If a leader is authentically engaged with others, such as their team, peers, tribe, clients or even competitors, they connect. This means that they are in a better position to understand their needs.

This empathy makes them better qualified for nurturing their people and embracing diversity. In supporting others to become the best that they can, they are investing in the future of the business. By embracing this, and leading by example, they are creating an environment of safety where people can be who they are and valued by others. This will create an environment where there is no such thing as a bad idea.

Being a curious leader does not mean that they have all the answers – far from it. They practice self-awareness, knowing their limitations and admitting that mistakes are a crucial part of their journey. They ask the right people, the right questions and listen intently to all the answers.

Curious leaders do not have large egos. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and do not feel threatened to surround themselves with brilliant people. I know that I have succeeded when my team doesn’t require my input to realise their goals. Therein rests the beauty of a curious leader. They are not always searching for new opportunities and ideas but they are actively seeking to help others on their career journeys.

As Albert Einstein reportedly said: “I am neither especially clever, nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” And look at what he achieved: He revolutionised our understanding of space, time, gravity and the universe. 

How to create conditions for curiosity?

In short, it is all about asking questions. But they must be the right ones and the answers have to be heard, digested and processed. Otherwise, it just becomes a pointless exercise.

Our brains tell us to take the path of least resistance. Yet we must challenge this default position. By taking small steps in the types of questions we ask, we can challenge this state of mind. We can practice it ourselves, and we can make it a core value of the business. And leaders must encourage their teams to change course when needed.

For example, consider the following questions: Why do we do it this way? What are the alternatives? What could we do to exceed our customers’ expectations? What would happen if we stopped doing it this way? All of these are powerful, insightful questions. These are the questions which all curious leaders ask on a regular basis.

Instead of asking ‘Who is to blame?’ It becomes ‘What can we learn?’ The questions are neither defensive nor judgmental. They are reflective and forward thinking. Leaders need to walk the walk, while aligning their behaviour with those they wish to nurture and influence. But curiosity must be authentic, and connected to the values and culture of the business. Disconnection and a lack of authenticity will be sniffed out easily.

By leading by example, curious leaders will fuel others to be curious too. They will create and nurture a learning mindset. This is one where team members will continually seek ways to extend boundaries and understand what is actually possible. And they will generate a culture for asking more curious questions. They must also understand other viewpoints, shares goals, while building connection and trust.

In a constantly evolving world, an agile business is one which adapts successfully to changing conditions. Agile businesses respond quickly, and reinvent themselves in order to achieve sustained growth and success. It doesn’t take one of the greatest physicists of all time to see that curiosity has an elemental role in this. So the question is today: How can you be more curious?

Joanna Knight
Joanna Knight

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