Lucy dhr
Lucy Adams
March 4, 2024
Reading time: 8 minutes
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The benefits of curiosity have been acknowledged for a while now.

  • Higher levels of innovation
  • Better customer relationships
  • Increased growth,
  • More engaged employees
  • Fewer decision-making errors and
  • Greater efficiency

And, being curious can even lower your stress levels!

But curiosity is a bit like keeping fit – we know it’s good for us – but some of us do it less than others.

So why are some of our leaders not as curious as we want them to be? There are three key reasons:

Showing curiosity can make us anxious

From school age we try and avoid things that might make people think less of us – so-called interpersonal risks. Showing curiosity involves taking these risks. For example, we worry that asking questions might be perceived as a weakness. We fear we’ll be judged incompetent, indecisive, or unintelligent.

And the more experienced and the more of an expert we are, the more risk we face. We believe we’re expected to know more than others. Leaders also tend to believe they’re expected to talk and provide answers, not ask questions.

It’s easier not to be curious

It’s easier on the brain to keep doing things as we’ve always done them. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that our curiosity decreases with each year that we’re in a role. Interestingly, Standard Chartered Bank have refocused their leadership development budget on emerging, new leaders, because they tend to be more curious, more intellectually hungry, and open to change than senior leaders.  

Being curious can take longer

And the final reason we avoid showing curiosity is that it can make it harder to work at pace. We all feel the pressures on our time and the need to deliver results quickly. If we ask more questions, it can slow the decision-making process down. We worry that if we surface too many alternative options, our ability to deliver quickly may be compromised.

So, it’s easier, safer and more efficient to NOT be curious. These barriers to curiosity are completely valid. So how can we help leaders address these barriers and generate the benefits of being a curious leader?

Help them expand their sources of stimulation

Often the only forms of communication our leaders receive from HR are requests for information or instructions to do something. We can play a big role in helping them widen their sources of stimulation by providing a steady stream of interesting articles, videos or podcasts about people leadership. We can go further and create a separate learning area on our main comms platform where we post these resources and then get a conversation going – asking for their opinions.

Help them to ask better questions

When 230 high-level leaders in executive education classes were asked what they would do if confronted with an organizational crisis most said they would take action. Only a few said they would ask questions rather than simply impose their ideas on others.

Leaders can develop curiosity throughout their organizations by being inquisitive themselves.

Many companies are encouraging this by replacing their cumbersome and ineffective performance management systems with a simple focus on asking questions. Like at Atlassian where managers ask these three questions in their weekly one-to-ones:

  • What are your priorities?
  • How can I help you?
  • How are you feeling?

Similarly, at Ernst & Young, they have implemented the practice of ‘Leading with questions’. They realised that the leaders who were thriving at EY tended to ask better questions that helped generate creativity and fresh thinking.  They also created higher levels of trust through not just listening to fix but listening to learn. HR provided prompts and advice to their leaders to try leading with one question before getting into default conversation mode. If you want to help your leaders ask better questions, check out The Conversations Toolkit – simple tips and conversation starters to help leaders and managers have better 1-2-1s.

Reward their learning, not just their results

And finally, if you’re going to make curiosity a good thing in your organisation, then it has to be rewarded. At Survey Monkey, they conduct town hall meetings at which they celebrate the “question of the week,” chosen from employee surveys. They also have a peer recognition program to reward people who dare to be especially candid. Encouraging curiosity can mean seeing failure through a different lens. If you’re not failing, then you’re probably not innovating enough and so leaders in some companies are consciously celebrating effort, learning and yes, even failures. Like at Dermalogica where the senior team rewards the failure of the month.  

So, help to generate more curiosity by providing leaders with interesting resources, embedding the skill of asking great questions and celebrating what people have learned as well as what they achieved.

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