How the best cats (leaders) lead with curiosity
The writer

How the best cats (leaders) lead with curiosity

Curiosity is a leadership quality that is often overlooked despite its significant impact on effectiveness. Unfortunately, one cat died out of curiosity and gave curiosity a bad name. The rest of the cats have lived with curiosity ever since.

The significance of staying curious and retaining a sense of wonder about customers, products, teams and the ecosystem cannot be over-emphasized. 

Curious leaders can adapt to change, identify trends, and avoid hubris that can end careers. The curiosity of exceptional leaders like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos has enhanced the quality of life for everyone. What lessons can we learn from these leaders about curiosity? Here are 3 critical routines you can adopt to boost your curiosity and enhance your leadership effectiveness.

Learn to say “I don’t know”:

No leader can claim to know everything or have all the answers given the pace of change today. However, your stakeholders will look to you for solutions to all challenges. Saying “I don’t know” is almost viewed as a sign of a lack of knowledge. 

Yet courage to say “I don’t know” offers growth opportunities to leaders. It allows leaders to embrace learnable moments and enhance their understanding.

Saying “I don’t know” allows a leader’s perspective to be broadened by the perspectives of those around him or her.

The challenge for many leaders is that they have created a scenario where they are expected to have all the answers. Hence, saying “I don’t know signifies weakness.

Yet, for every leader, saying “I don’t know” offers opportunities to reflect more on the issue rather than regurgitate learned responses.

I once observed a team glow in a leader’s presence, when he responded to their questions with “I don’t know”.

The team of experts had come to him for direction on an assignment. How wrong he would have been, had he suggested a way forward.

He gave the group a sense of ownership and an opportunity to produce awesome work based on their expertise.

All he did was say, “I don’t know” and express faith in their collective ability to do the work assigned. Saying “I don’t know” and soliciting the views of others enhances engagement. Team members begin to feel listened to.

They develop a sense of pride as they contribute to resolving complex challenges with their ideas.

Ask transformative questions daily:

The childlike questioning instinct is a great tool that feeds our curiosity.

Of course, we become adults and prefer to live as adults, but we give up on a very effective method for understanding our world.

Thomas Edison never lost it. He was known for asking too many questions and never doing his homework.

He persistently asked questions on the job. Asking different questions allows your team to approach the same issue with a different mindset. 

Several great CEOs have developed a set of daily questions they use to enable them to focus on what matters.

Steve Jobs’ daily question was, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'

This is a question Steve Jobs asked daily for almost four decades of his life. And he said, “Whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” 

To start asking great questions, first, take account of the questions you have been asking.

What are the typical questions you ask in meetings? What has driven you to ask these questions?

Secondly, determine to craft new questions that explore issues you may have ignored in the past. 

One good question to ask about any issue being discussed is, “What questions are we not asking?”

After spending eight months with a colleague, the only thing I clearly remember 15 years later is a question he asked almost daily: “What is the value addition?” This is a question every leader can use to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

Harness the power of feedback: 

Research shows that feedback from peers and bosses is the most critical developmental intervention for a leader on their way to a CEO position. The irony is that as leaders get promoted, they practically run out of bosses who give them feedback because of their position in the hierarchy. In some organisations, the board dynamics make it impossible for the CEO to receive any meaningful developmental feedback from the very group of people expected to hold the CEO accountable and support their leadership development. Successful CEOs develop rigorous mechanisms to actively harvest feedback from stakeholders, enabling them to avoid the “emperor has no clothes” scenario.
ou can start harnessing the power of feedback by asking your stakeholders how you can be a better leader and serve them well. You may not receive meaningful responses the first time you ask this question, but you must start. Your team may interpret your actions as a trap if this is not the norm. This happened to one CEO I coached when I asked him to seek feedback from across his organisation. It is better to engage one-on-one, explain the reason for requesting feedback and ensure your team (especially lower-level staff) feels comfortable to do so. As the team comes to accept your sincerity, they will start providing effective feedback over time.

Making these three critical routines part of your leadership requires humility, courage and discipline. Boosting curiosity makes leaders adaptive and context-agile, which sustains exceptional CEO performance, especially in times of disruption.

The 3 Practices highlighted in the article above are part of the Breaking Barriers to CEO Learning Curriculum, the Foundational Module on the CEO Accelerator Program.

… of good cheer!

The writer is a Leadership Development Facilitator, Executive Coach and Strategy Consultant, Founder of the CEO Accelerator Program, and Chief Learning Strategist at TEMPLE Advisory. The mission of The Leadership Project is to harvest highly effective leadership practices and share them in a manner that other leaders can easily incorporate into their leadership practice. If you have an idea or leadership practice to share, kindly write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Until you read from us again, keep leading…..from leader to leader, one practice at a time.

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