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Beyond Skillsets: Embracing Curiosity as a Strategic Leadership Imperative

By Jessica Wishart

Strategic Leadership

dateTue, May 28, 2024 @ 10:00 AM

In his upcoming book, The Journey to CEO Success: 7 Practices for High-Growth Leadership, our CEO Patrick Thean shares how critical it is for today’s CEOs and leaders to be curious. Curiosity is not just an engaging personal trait—it's a strategic imperative for CEOs who want to drive innovation, inspire their teams, and position their organizations for sustainable growth in a dynamic and evolving business environment.

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Benefits of Being a Curious Leader

Here are just a few of the benefits of cultivating a practice and mindset of being curious:

  • Fostering innovation and solving problems - Great leaders encourage others to think about what’s possible and generate creative solutions by asking questions and imagining alternatives. Before digging into solutions, they get very interested in what the underlying root cause of the issues are. They look at problems and potential solutions from multiple perspectives and engage in meaningful debates. In our rapidly changing environment, leaders need to be flexible, adaptive, and curious to survive.
  • Building stronger relationships - Great leaders are interested in other people. They ask questions more than speak their own opinions. They want to understand what makes other people tick, how their team members think what motivates them, and what customers, stakeholders, or partners truly value. If you’ve ever interacted with someone genuinely interested in you rather than pushing their agenda, it’s no mystery that these people establish better relationships and deeper networks. Stronger relationships can go a long way toward retaining top talent, growing your customer base, and advancing your strategic partnerships.
  • Continuing to learn and grow - Great leaders know they don’t know everything. They are continuously striving to get better. Often, they are interested in learning from other disciplines industries world events, or historical patterns. They get curious about leadership and their strengths and weaknesses. A curious leader is humble enough to admit they never have it all figured out; they are always willing to learn and grow, in knowledge and skill.

Doing vs. Being Curious

Understanding the clear benefits of being a curious leader, you may be tempted to go out and DO curiosity! While there are certain skills you can practice to become a more curious person, the temptation to follow a checklist of skills to attain curiosity is a trap. 

One of my favorite parts of the new book is about the difference between doing curious and being curious. Too often we get lost in performing the theatre of curiosity - focusing hard on showing our active listening skills - like asking open-ended questions or nodding at the right times. Those are important skills, but if you are thinking about the skills… you’re not engaging with what the other person is saying with genuine interest and curiosity.

Many years ago, when I was getting a master's degree in counseling, I experienced this as a student intern. I had to record some of my counseling sessions to watch back with my professor advisor for feedback. In these sessions, I was so focused on exhibiting the counseling skills I was supposed to be mastering, that I had a harder time with the basics of connecting with the client and genuinely empathizing with what they were experiencing.

In the sessions where the cameras were off, I was much more naturally curious - and effective - at listening, asking open-ended questions, and validating the clients’ emotions… the very same skills I was supposed to be learning.

Stress can be a barrier to creativity and curiosity - if you are rushing, pressured, or exhausted, it’s harder to slow down and ask questions rather than push for results immediately. Build in time to manage your stress level, and incorporate some prompts to help you remember to operate from a mindset of being curious. Before you meet with someone, get excited to learn something new about them, or about the topic you’re discussing. Ask questions, not because you’re supposed to show you’re listening, but because you are genuinely interested in the answer. That’s where the real magic happens!

These are just a few insights; for many more concrete examples and help incorporating curiosity into your leadership toolkit, you’ll have to check out this chapter in the upcoming book!

 

 

Want to learn more about strategy execution in leadership?

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Jessica Wishart is a Sr. Product Manager at Rhythm Systems, who collaborates with our amazing customers and internal teams to understand problems, brainstorm possibilities, and launch product solutions. Jessica's background in counseling enables her to truly listen and empathize with the wants and needs of our customers and the market.

Jessica Wishart

 

Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images