Great Leaders are Inquisitive Explorers

By Cathy McCullough

dateMon, Jan 20, 2020 @ 09:30 AM

First and foremost, truly awesome leaders are Inquisitive Explorers (i.e., they have a natural curiosity about what is going on…not so they can control it, but because what’s going on around them leads to learning). I truly believe that company forums such as Annual Planning and Quarterly Planning should be just as much about learning as they are about creating a path forward. And using a metrics dashboard, such as Rhythm, helps an executive team learn how to better prespond (vs. respond) so they can escape the drama that comes with getting blind-sided. The brutal facts and the great moments are always a part of an Inquisitive Explorer's journey. Inquisitive Explorers are also constantly checking themselves (i.e., What could I have done differently? What was my role in this failure? Why did I do that!?) As Stephen MR Covey noted, it is this type of self-check that keeps great leaders humble and teachable. These leaders usually create organizational cultures where they learn as much from their employees as the employees learn from them. Without a cohesive team, getting to the top of a really high mountain will be really hard.

Secondly, great leaders (i.e., Inquisitive Explorers) spend a great deal of time creating a natural sense of unity. They are relationship builders who firmly believe in the power behind personal honesty and trustworthiness. They do this by approaching the diversity of thought as an opportunity and not a barrier (thereby fostering a culture that lives and breathes “open communication”) and by celebrating varying perspectives. This is especially important in a global economy. 

In their article, “The Bottom-Line for Work-Life Leadership” (in Ivey Business Journal Online, July/August 2005), Coffey and Tombari describe three areas in which great leaders excel:

(1) Managing workload, (2) promoting communication and development, and (3) changing internal processes to be not only more efficient, but more effective. The implementation of these three characteristics serves to demonstrate support, responsiveness, flexibility, and adaptability (all characteristics of serious Inquisitive Explorers).

An example of these characteristics in action is noted by Coffey and Tombari. The example comes from RBC Financial Group, Canada’s largest financial services organization. RBC undertook a major project of critical importance. This project required about 200 of the company’s employees to form a Finance Team and work longer hours for a period of two years. The Finance Team, seeking to address the work/life balance issues created by this project, created a Work/Life Employee Partnership Planner, designed to facilitate discussions between managers and employees and to ensure the consideration of both personal and business needs during the challenging period. This planner is now used throughout the organization to promote a culture of teamwork and help employees balance the demands on their time caused by the demands of work and home. And, the Finance Team won the ProjectWorld Project of the Year Award for creating the Planner.

As a leader, commit to being an Inquisitive Explorer:

  • Be strategic with your intent.

  • Be open to new ways of working.

  • Work on your people problems (one of the hardest things to do). If ignored, people problems will sabotage your overall success.

  • Create an environment in which everyone can succeed if they just have focus and alignment.

  • Measure what matters (such as the degree to which your company is living its Core Values, the degree to which your customers feel your company is upholding its Brand Promise, the degree to which we're on-track to meet our goals, etc.).

  • Let people do what they do best every single day.

  • Provide clarity around “who does what.”

  • Make adjustments to your systems and processes as needed along the way.

  • Chunk your Annual Plan into “Quarterly sound bites” so people can understand the roadmap.

  • Be inquisitive. Ask questions.

  • Be open to hard realities.

  • Focus on solutions.

  • Expect setbacks and bumps along the way, but continue to focus on forward movement.

And don't forget: as an Inquisitive Explorer, remember to enjoy the journey.


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Want more information on Leadership and Team Accountability? Check out these additional resources:

The Power of Systems and People: Accountable Leaders and Teams

Take Our Team Accountability Assessment 

Team Accountability Begins with Personal Accountability

How top CEOs Close the Strategy Execution Gap

Building Team Accountability: Job Scorecards

10 Signs of an Accountable Culture [Infographic]

Growing Team Accountability in Your Organization

Quick Tips for Building Accountability

5 Steps to Having an Accountability Discussion [Video]

Learn more about accountable leaders and teams.


Cathy McCullough


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images