Curiosity and leadership
Are successful leaders typically more curious than the rest of us? Is curiosity one of the secrets to better leadership?According to most behavioral scientists and business leaders, the answer is an unqualified yes. While curiosity, many will say, does not ensure that a business leader will be successful, you won’t find many successful business leaders who are not highly curious. In fact, many of them, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, describe curiosity as one of the three Cs of successful leadership along with creativity and commitment. Considering this emerging tenet, it might be surprising to learn that some leaders are reluctant to apply this principle. The thought is that curiosity is a distinction that separates excellent leaders from those deemed less effective. Those deemed less effective, research suggests, tend to avoid failing, being criticized, making hard decisions, taking responsibility, or being unable to reach an important goal. As a result, they may fear that their curiosity could expose them as not being as smart as they want people to believe. Also, as a result, those leaders often surround themselves with individuals who are experts to compensate for their own lack of curiosity. Know anyone like that? That practice tends to inhibit them from developing curiosity skills on their own. Effective leaders, by contrast, appear to be comfortable in the space of the unknown, the uncomfortable. The same curiosity that can be stymied by fears becomes the antidote for overcoming them. Deborah Bowie, CEO of Transforming Lives through Charitable Giving, stated, “The opposite of fear is not bravery, but curiosity. When we know more, we fear less.”
But how do less effective or aspiring leaders develop curiosity? And how is that curiosity best expressed?When asked to name the one attribute CEOs will need most to succeed in these turbulent times, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc., replied, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”
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Innovative Leadership: Developing Curiosity
But if we know these reasons, why do leaders and their teams still struggle?After analysing a detailed study by Donald Sull, Rebecca Homkes, and Charles Sull published in the Harvard Business Review, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels – And What to Do About It” , Hvisdos reduces the issue to one simple conclusion: many leaders lack curiosity. He explained,
Leaders fail time and again to understand the situations, people, or customers they are engaging with because they simply aren’t curious about them and feel more comfortable not leaving their comfort zones to find out. Sull, Homkes, and Sull argued that organizations fail at execution because they don’t adapt quickly enough to changing market conditions. Most leaders solve problems by trying to reduce them to single dimensions. And while that’s true, what they really lack is more fundamental. They lack what the authors describe as “business curiosity.” In the following step, we will be hearing from Dr. Amy Edmondson, Harvard where myself and Amy discuss taking the lead. We ask the question: what holds leaders back?“Simply defined, curiosity is, ‘the desire to learn or know more about something or someone.’ It is the starting point to every great idea, invention and new business. It is what makes some businesses wildly successful while others are just average, and it’s the real reason why some leaders and their teams succeed, while others fail.”
ReferencesJohn Quincy Adams perfectly defined leadership [Internet]. The North Bay Business Journal. [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: https://legacy.northbaybusinessjournal.com/csp/mediapool/sites/NBBJ/IndustryNews/story.csp?cid=4180440&sid=778&fid=181 Sinek S. Twitter [Internet]. Twitter.com. 2011 [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: https://twitter.com/simonsinek/status/68312248250138625?lang=en 1. Berger W. Why Curious People Are Destined for the C-Suite [Internet]. Harvard Business Review. 2015 [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2015/09/why-curious-people-are-destined-for-the-c-suite 2. Berger W. A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA; 2016. 3. Dave Ulrich | The RBL Group [Internet]. Daveulrich.com. [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: http://daveulrich.com 4. Leslie I. Curious. London: Quercus Editions Ltd; 2014. 5. Sull D, Homkes R, Sull C. Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to Do About It [Internet]. Harvard Business Review. 2015 [cited 4 September 2020]. Available from: https://hbr.org/2015/03/why-strategy-execution-unravelsand-what-to-do-about-it
Innovative Leadership: Developing Curiosity
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