Eleanor Roosevelt once said, I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.
I happen to think that fairy godmothers everywhere are quite liberal with the gift of curiosity when we are born. Somehow though, along the way, so many of us wrap the gift up again and put it away in our inner attics, unwrapping it only on occasion.
I think we do that because, as we grow, we are taught that curiosity can be intrusive, impolite and get us into trouble. But, I’m coming around to think that it is one of the foundations of good leadership.
As a fundamental tool for exploration, curiosity is the springboard to developing our ability to ask good questions. And, the skill of asking questions is one that all good leaders must have in their tool kit. To me, a good question is one that evokes deep thought, instigates change, inspires creativity, and/or clears the debris of confusion to make room for clarity. It can come from no other place than our very human tendency to want to know. And, for many of us, it requires blowing off the cobwebs of our childhood “gift” and putting it to use.
So, if we haven’t invited our curiosity out to play lately, what might be getting in the way? How might we look at it differently? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Feel free to participate won’t you?
We confuse curiosity with being “Nosy”
Many of us, as we grow, are schooled to mind our own business. It is offensive to pry. It is annoying when we ask too many questions. And later, as adults, it is easy to see why we hesitate to ask when we want to know something.
To me, there is a great difference between being curious and being nosy. It centers on our intent. Those who seek information with the intent is to use what they come to know for the purpose of passing judgment and gaining leverage over others are more likely to be considered nosy, or worse.
Alternately, those who seek information out of genuine interest do so with the intent to explore, discover and expand their knowledge. These people have a way of engaging others in the exploration too and making them feel valued rather than scrutinized. In other words, curiosity comes from a place of innocence and fascination where nosiness has a more unpleasant origin.
We come to believe that we need to have all the answers before we ask the questions
Some of us will choose not to act out of curiosity because we believe that, as leaders, we should always have the answers. From this perspective we run risk of restricting the amount of useful information and ideas available to us. And, we rarely learn how to ask those really good questions.
Some time ago, Art Petty wrote a post called; Let Your Questions be their Guide. It is an excellent post that includes some questions that will encourage curiosity in others. If you are curious, I encourage you to check it out.
We are self conscious about how we might look if we ask a “dumb” question
Okay, so no one really likes it when we ask a question that makes us appear to others as being naïve or ignorant. To some leaders, doing so means tarnishing their image or putting their capability as a leader into question. And so, they simply stop asking and instead live in hope that someone else will ask the “dumb” question instead. The trouble with that is that focusing on our own image does not get the job done. And, it does not allow for the kind of exploration required to build and grow the organization to its full potential.
We have not made curiosity part of our culture
Simply put, if we do not make inquiry, exploration and discovery part of the fabric of the organization, we will resist flexing our curiosity muscles. Leaders who want to create and encourage this kind of environment must do so by going first, showing others how it’s done and acknowledging those who follow their example.
So…what about you? What gets in the way of your curiosity? How do you, or would you, encourage others to flex their curiosity muscles? What good questions do you like to ask? What benefits have you experienced from inviting curiosity into your workplace? What do you think?