The old saying is that curiosity killed the cat, but I beg to differ.
In our work with C-suite leaders across the globe, I’ve noticed that the executives who are at the top of their game are naturally inquisitive. Their desire to always learn, ask the hard questions, and maintain a relentless focus on continuous improvement is what sets these leaders apart. If anything, curiosity makes these cats.
But they’re not just curious for curiosity’s sake. They have an underlying mission – to ask the questions that will foster collaboration, delight customers, and effect change. It comes down to three simple yet effective leadership skills.
They are intensely inquisitive – They are rarely satisfied with their current level of knowledge. No matter how much formal and informal education they have across a variety of areas, they are always gathering more information. Their growing bed of knowledge gives them the foundation and assurance to take risks and make calculated bets on the future. This is how leaders like Elon Musk can disrupt the auto industry one day and the energy industry the next.
They anticipate and embrace change – What they accepted long ago – and something many struggle with – is that change is inevitable. Think about this: the opposite of change is stagnation. While “change is hard” has become a cliché, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to accept. Yet for leaders who make a difference, anticipating and embracing change is a non-negotiable for success.
They are authentically present – It’s not uncommon to hear a story about a leader who was dismissive or didn’t make eye contact because they were distracted or too hung up on the org chart to display a genuine interest in engaging the people around them. Conversely, you also hear anecdotes of people meeting with political figures or CEOs who made them genuinely feel that they were being heard. These are the leaders that have mastered the enviable ability to treat everybody they meet like a VIP and to ensure individuals in a crowd feel they’re the only person in the room. These leaders are able to do this because their natural curiosity is rooted in listening, empathy and connecting. The best leaders connect through body language, eye contact, and other imperceptible clues that are rooted in sincerity.
Curiosity killed the cat…
Curiosity is not just about asking questions. Arguably, more than half of being intelligently curious comes down to listening. Before making a decision, effective leaders listen to several perspectives, are able to make a connection between the insights and views of their constituents, their own knowledge, and the impact of their decisions on a broader audience. Great leaders want to hear as many options as possible before making decisions for their teams, companies, and customers, and know that the best ideas come from all ranks inside and outside the company.
Executives don’t have a lock on these three skills. They can be honed by any leader. However, there is an unhealthy and unspoken mindset among some that curiosity is a luxury. The thought being that there’s barely enough time in the day to get the current work done, much less find the time to think about bigger questions that will impact their work, team, department, product, company, market, and the list goes on.
Adding to this, many people are in roles or companies where that level of contemplation is not welcome. Yet it’s those organizations that will be stunted when it comes to realizing any meaningful change. The reality is, if you aren’t regularly asking questions that will lead to positive disruption, you’re letting the competition take the lead.
Executives with an eye to the future built curiosity into everybody’s job description because they want to build, test, and prod their teams to eke out the best and most interesting ideas.
And when people work at a company where they are valued, heard, and inspired, that level of investment is rewarded in ways that will benefit customers, employees, executives, and shareholders. Satisfied, engaged teams also have a strong foundation from which to encourage ideas that will grow and change the business.