3 ways to promote curiosity in leadership

Curiosity creates relationships. It brings people together—it doesn’t kill cats.

In the September 2018 Harvard Business Review, Professor Francesca Gino summarises the benefits of curiosity as fewer decision-making errors, more innovative and positive changes, reduced group conflict, open communication, and better performance. My focus with leaders is typically on the last two.

As leaders, when we judge people, they feel it. They may not be sure how or why they feel uncomfortable with you… They will know there is a barrier between you.

Judgment limits our growth, cripples relationships, denies us possibilities and keeps us small. Curiosity is the antidote for judgement as it refreshes our relationships and our perspectives, and it helps move us past cognitive biases.

We say we value curiosity. Professor Gino quotes a study of more than 3000 employees. 92% of respondents connected curiosity to job satisfaction, innovation and high performance, and credited curious people with generating positive new ideas.

So are we curious leaders, leading curious cultures? Perhaps not! Only 24% of those same employees said they felt curious at work on a regular basis, and 70% reported ‘facing barriers to asking more questions at work’.

How about in your workplace? How often are you curious? As a leader, how well are you modelling curiosity for others?

What could you do today to promote curiosity?

Here are three ideas:

  • Ask more questions. Monitor your Ask:Tell ratio. Track the times you ask questions that get people thinking, compared to the times you tell them what to do. Read my latest book ‘Leaders Who Ask: Building Fearless Cultures by telling less and asking more’ for more ‘how to’ on this.
  • Use your frustration with others to trigger curiosity. What good intention might be driving their behaviour? What outcome are they seeking? What barriers do they need to overcome? Why do you feel the way you do about this?
  • Encourage questions from others. Reward questions and curiosity with your attention.

A mindset of curiosity is vital in leadership because it creates an openness that allows true exploration. What will you explore during 2019? What will you explore today?