How Curious Are You?

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curious - einsteinRecently I met with an out-of-province business owner.  I was learning he came from a rich family heritage including a close senior relative who had served as a beloved Premier of their province.  As he relayed his recollection of his famous relative he made this statement that immediately captured my attention,

“Even into his old age he remained very curious.  He always wanted to get to know people, learn their stories and build relationship.”

I had not grown accustomed to relate “curiosity” with great leadership, but when I heard my new friend relay this story I realized that indeed it needs to be.  Curiosity is a critical value necessary for great leadership.

Being curious is simply being eager to learn and to know; to be enthusiastically inquisitive.

You cannot be curious unless you are humble.  A curious leader is a humble leader who believes there is more they don’t know than they know.  There is always more they can learn.  They are lifelong learners wanting to learn from others.  Humility is the foundation for curiosity.

And curiosity is the catalyst for relationship, creativity and innovation.  As a leader we have three venues for curiosity: people, process and product.  Curiosity with people leads you to want to get to know and understand others.  This builds relationship and enables a leader to better influence and lead his/her people.  And, it enables the employees to better follow the leader because there is trust and relationship.

Curiosity as it applies to any business process and the product (service) you may produce will always lead to creativity and innovation.  Curious leaders will not be content to keep doing things the same way over and over.  A curious leader will look at things from multiple perspectives, continuing to ask questions:

“Why do we do things this way?  What would happen if we tried this?  How can we become more effective and efficient?  How can we better serve our customers?  Why not try this just to see what happens?”

Curious leaders are always moving forward.  Curious leaders are not afraid of failure.  In fact, curious leaders know that “failure” is the prerequisite to success.  Curious leaders know that you will never know how far you can go until you go too far.

A great example of the power of curious leaders is found in the age of exploration…

“Can we reach the orient by sailing west?  Can we discover a northwest passage through the Arctic?  What will we discover if we circumnavigate South America?”

If curiosity was not a critical leadership value we would all still be living in Europe.  In fact, any great advancement in the course of human history would be impossible without curiosity.  Great discoveries always begin with someone wondering if it is possible to…  – you fill in the blank.

I have no doubt when Columbus sailed west, hit land and then began sailing along the coast to explore what they had discovered he did not consider himself a failure if the inlet they were exploring ended:

“Oh no, I am a failure because this body of water is a dead end.”

That would be ridiculous.  No, he just discovered this particular inlet will not lead them anywhere further.  But they discovered what that particular inlet offered.

Likewise, curious leaders know dead ends are not failures, they are discoveries.  We have discovered one more way not to accomplish what we are striving toward.  Or, on the road to accomplishing one particular objective we have discovered something quite unexpected.  Some of histories famous dead ends or “failures” turned out to be some of our greatest discoveries – penicillin for example.

Thomas Edison said of his quest to create the light bulb, “I have not failed.  I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Curiosity is critical for great leadership.  And, curious leaders create a culture of curiosity.  People are encouraged to probe, ask, investigate, invent, explore, experiment, be enthusiastically inquisitive and fail in order to foster creativity and innovation.

Where would we be without the curious leader?  I can tell you where your company will be without a curious leader – out of business.

Will you choose to be a curious leader?

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Leading and Living on Purpose.