Thriving in a complex, volatile business environment requires leaders who approach every problem and every opportunity with an inquisitive spirit.
This curiosity drives leaders to learn their companies inside and out. They never stop looking for ideas to improve. This thirst for knowledge and wondering why enhances their ability to spot trends, anticipate changes, and tackle challenges.
The phrase “business curiosity” continued to emerge in my conversations and research. Leaders and analysts alike consistently described the quality as continually asking why. Answers don’t change the world, they say; questions do.
According to many who study successful leadership, business curiosity challenges leaders to question the very processes that made them successful and are used by their organizations and the customers they serve. Only when they question the very beliefs that made them successful can leaders start to reshape thinking, actions, and outcomes. It is then that they can start to capture and create more value for the businesses they lead.
In 2014, Forbes magazine contributor Micha Kaufman listed 10 Traits of Great Business Leaders . Six of these have direct ties to curiosity:
- Having an eye for talent
- Unwillingness to take no for an answer
The relentless pursuit to understand why allows you to think differently, learn from mistakes, and understand what makes people and organizations tick.
So again, why don’t more leaders exhibit this critical trait?
As Hvisdos said, “Almost every business leader will say that one of the biggest challenges they face is managing time. Leaders get pulled in countless directions at a pace that would make a Formula One race feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll’.
“But in reality, most leaders spend far too much time on low value, under-productive chores, which at best create only incremental value to the business and the teams they lead.”
Hvisdos went on to describe how many leaders devote their time to the many inward issues that sustain what he calls status quo thinking. This erodes their ability to exercise the curiosity that inspires new ideas that push their teams to new heights.
Business curiosity (curiosity quotient or CQ) is not as widely studied as IQ and EQ, but as the Harvard Business Review article, “Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence” , discussed, people with a higher level of curiosity are more inquisitive and open to new experiences than others. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.
The article noted that CQ is just as important when it comes to managing complexity. First, individuals with a higher CQ are generally more tolerant of ambiguity than those with a lower CQ. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity.
Second, CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time. Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones. Thus, CQ is the ultimate tool for leaders and their teams to devise simple solutions for complex problems.
Analysts, consultants, and business leaders alike remind me that although we are born with curiosity, we are not born leaders. Leadership skills must be developed.
They also remind me that the path to developing effective leadership skills is not IQ or even EQ, but CQ, the ability to retain the curiosity we exhibited as children. Successful leadership is derived by asking simple questions such as:
“What if . . . ?” “Why do we do it this way?” “Is there a more efficient way?” “What do you think?”
Business today has evolved from the traditional militaristic, top-down leadership model referred to as Command and Control to a simpler, more engaging approach of Ask, Trust, and Track.
And curiosity has emerged as a vital leadership quality.
Gallup is one of the lead organisations where they examine engagement. Check out this article
As we consider any cultural change at work, we must start at the top. Leaders must buy into the need for that change and embody what they hope to achieve.
How can we get leaders to view the importance of modelling curiosity to improve engagement?
1. Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence [Internet]. Harvard Business Review. 2014 [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2014/08/curiosity-is-as-important-as-intelligence