In Praise of Curiosity
Inclusive leaders are curious leaders.
I recently met a leader who told me she has been managing a team of people for the past 6 years in a high turnover market – and no one has left. When I asked her why they stayed, she talked about curiosity. She described how she had regular one-to-one meetings with each of her team members. In those meetings, she was interested in the work they are doing. She was curious about how to help them be satisfied in their work and she believed this led to high retention and high engagement. For me, she is describing one key part of an inclusive leadership approach.
An inclusive leader asks questions because they are interested to know more about each individual – their life and world view. In a diverse team, this encourages innovative ideas and often opens the way for everyone to be equal contributors.
In his book “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling”, Edgar Schein writes about a special type of leadership – asking questions when you don’t know the answers and “building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.” Warren Berger writes about the power that lies in asking questions instead of insisting on answers.
Berger demonstrates in his HBR piece how curiosity is linked to innovation. For example, curiosity about how things can be done differently may have been the spark that launched “disruptive” startup companies. It can also be found at larger companies that have found new ways of doing things. Berger shows how this type of curiosity can thrive if the organisation’s culture is more about ‘asking’ than about ‘telling’.
But task-oriented or solution-oriented curiosity is not the whole story. People-oriented curiosity multiplies innovative potential by bringing out each employee’s latent talent and creativity.
Inclusive leaders are curious about the people they lead, what makes them tick, where their strengths lie, and when they are at their best at work. That makes everyone feel included. And frees them up to be curious and creative about solving problems. And this leads to innovation.
The good news is curiosity can be taught, says Ian Leslie. Children are naturally curious but often lose this with age. However, we can always bring back this state of mind. We can become curious if we are encouraged to do so.