Fearless Questioning: The Importance of Curiosity in Leadership

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When we think of innovative companies — Apple, Google, Tesla, etc. — we think of dreamers who think big, and take chances. Upon Steve Jobs’ return to Apple in the 90s, the company even made “Think Different” their mantra. Most would agree that “thinking outside of the box” and taking chances leads to growth and innovation. So why do so few companies, and so few leaders, actually do it?

We often consider the term “status quo” a negative thing, but the truth is that most leaders are comfortable with the status quo. Rocking the boat means taking chances, and taking chances means incurring risk. Human beings are, in large part, driven by security. We seek security and safety at work, at home, and in our relationships. Security is good — but stagnation can be a death knell for a company. Curious leaders — ones that ask tough questions of themselves and their employees — usually come out on top. Those who don’t fall behind and ultimately fail.

Curious Leadership isn’t about asking questions — it’s about asking the hard questions. The ones you might be afraid to hear the answers to. Fear, however, can lead to your greatest fears coming true. If your company is losing sales or losing employees, there’s probably a reason for it. While hearing the answer might be painful, not hearing it will only compound the issue. So how does one become a curious leader?

Ask Questions Fearlessly

Take a figurative look in the mirror and ask yourself questions you may not want to hear the answers to. Be thoughtful — but be fearless. Here’s a list you can start with:

  • What can I do differently?
  • What am I willing to do differently?
  • If I had a “magic wand” and could make any changes- what would I do and why? How would it impact the business?
  • What stops me from making changes to my approach?
  • If someone else took over my role tomorrow, what is the first big change they would make?
  • What is the first step towards change that I can make now?
  • What’s the worst that can happen if that initiative fails?

Of course, you’ll want to develop additional questions that are more specific to your business, but the above questions are a great starting point.

Create a Curious Culture

Foster a company culture in which employees and leadership feel free to ask questions — and provide solutions. The combined brainpower of your team is larger than the brainpower of you alone. Ask every employee and leader to think about a better way to do things, no matter how successful your company is. You won’t find a new idea that works every time, but eventually, you’ll strike gold.

Critical principles for Mentoring the Next Generation

Create a Plan and Be Consistent

Too often, whether it’s leadership training or a new strategic plan, companies and leaders fall quickly back into their old habits following a bout of energy and excitement about change. Don’t let this happen. Set up a time, weekly or monthly, devoted to letting employees ask questions or give suggestions.

Ask the Same Question More than Once

Develop some key questions about your approach and revisit them regularly. The market moves fast, and change is the only constant. You’ll find that you discover different answers to the same questions over time, and eventually, you’ll find an answer that spurs positive change.

Turn Ideas into Action

Ask questions — and provide answers. When you or an employee asks, “what if we did it this way,” ensure that there is a plan — however informal — to put it into action. A question is just a question without a plan to back it up.

Fearless leadership — while it can be uncomfortable – will help your company, and your career, survive and thrive. Remember, there’s always someone out there trying to do the job better. Make sure that someone is you.

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