Picture a Curious Leader

I recently wrote about my struggle to find just the right word that is the opposite of “oblivious.” Along those same lines, what do you consider to be the opposite of “curious”? Various dictionaries suggest “incurious; uncurious” (sigh), “apathetic,” “indifferent” or “uninterested.” I’m not sure any of these are quite right. (Interestingly, this list is identical to the one generated when you inquire about the word “nosy.” I’m not a fan.)

In many group conversations lately, I’m hearing people use the word “curious” with obvious intention, as a way to reframe feedback from a statement to a question. “I heard you say ____, and that makes me curious about ____.” In that context, might curious be the opposite of definitive? Judgmental even?

Curious people are learners and explorers. They tend to see the world as an exciting place of discovery, and they are quick to recognize that their perspective isn’t shared by everyone.

Curious people are also often excellent conversation partners. They listen well and ask insightful questions. They are interested, and that often makes them interesting. I remember a friend describing his now-grown daughter with a loving twinkle in his eye this way: “She didn’t ask many questions as a kid. I think it’s because she figured she knew all the answers!”

Curiosity is also a bit messy. (Remember Curious George? Or “curiosity killed the cat?”) It’s always unpredictable and often inefficient. It implies getting started without knowing where something might lead.

Compelling, right? Doesn’t it stir something in you?

But we don’t hear much about curious leadership, (see this article for example) in part because it stands in such sharp contrast to the notion of a leader who has it all together and knows what to do. That sounds compelling too. But imaginary.

A friend recently wondered aloud whether curiosity can be taught. I very much hope so, as I believe it to be one of the most undervalued leadership skills with the most transformative potential. None of us has the full picture – without curiosity, we’ll stay stuck in our oblivion for far longer than necessary.

Feeling curious? Let’s talk more about how to accelerate curious leadership. Register for my new ELASTIC workshop series where I’ll showcase what I see compelling, mission-driven leaders having in common. Each monthly session will focus on one dimension of ELASTIC leadership: energy, likeability, adaptability, strategy, trust, imagination and curiosity. Sign up for all seven workshops at a discounted rate or choose individual sessions throughout the year. To learn more about ELASTIC leaders sign up for the FREE session on Monday, November 29 at 12 p.m. EST. 

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