Curiosity is the Real Power That Drives Effective Leadership!

Are you a curious leader?

I have long believed in the power of curiosity to drive my effectiveness as a leader.

So I will share an experience that demonstrates how I played with ideas, risked failure, remained positive and generated enthusiasm, whilst, at the same time, helping staff discover, reignite and breakthrough their self-limiting barriers through the power of curiosity.

What Happened?

An organisation recruited me to help resolve an internal team issue arising from a budget-driven restructuring programme. They intended to remove management posts and re-shape staffing levels.

However, during the change process, one particular team suffered a complete loss of designated leadership amidst a backdrop of considerable individual and group upheaval. As a result, I had to stabilise and lead the team, pending the recruitment of a new manager and some additional part-time support staff.

My Immediate Experience

On arrival at the team base, I met staff very bruised emotionally; very angry at their treatment; extremely concerned by the ‘them and us’ gulf created by the ongoing process; and, consequently, enormously distrustful of the senior management team.

From personal experience, I knew just how damaging, emotionally and mentally, such situations can be and the likely impact on performance. Therefore, I was immediately curious to discover just how far-reaching the impact of the change was on the team, on staff as individuals, and their likely performance levels.

I was also keen to discover what was needed to restore their self-belief and trust in the ongoing process and change direction.

Why Discerning Reality from Some Imagined State is Important

In dealing with previous change scenarios, I’d relied strongly on my curiosity to help me to discern ‘reality’ from some imagined, often speculative, state of being. That helped to build a sense of perspective and gather better intelligence around purpose and direction.

It also enabled a greater sense of clarity, primarily through asking powerful questions. I used simple questions, most powerfully ‘Why?’ to better understand intent and purpose. I know that curiosity often breeds more questions than answers, although, as an iterative approach, it is usually ideal for gathering masses of information quickly. In challenging change scenarios, my experience tells me that the more information available, the more transparent the process, the more likely participants will adjust sooner.

Why Listening Should Not Be Underrated

My power of curiosity has also improved my listening.

My desire to better understand and to become more enlightened is powerful. As a leader, I want to learn. So the most effective way for me has always been by asking questions and listening hard. I’ve uncovered much deeper insight into what has happened and how it impacted in this way.

Listening and empathically engaging has generally offered helpful clues as to how to remedy a situation and often, better still, how to engage more fully or effectively with the ongoing change process. It has also enabled me to help people feel more valued.

Why Suspending Assumptions is Also Needed

Drawing on the power of my curiosity allowed me to suspend my assumptions and keep an open mind. That deepened my ability to learn.

It helped me to get to know what people were thinking. As a result, I gained better insight into their critical thinking processes and secured broader perspectives on issues of the day. Demonstrating my learning also built goodwill with the team.

What Did I Learn from My Approach

Drawing on the wealth of data that my inquisitiveness unearthed, I was able very quickly to:

  • Assess where each team member felt they were within the current scenario;
  • Identify actions to support them in working through how they were responding to the change process and how they might do this more effectively;
  • Define and then implement some demonstrable actions that began to restore their faith in themselves; and, enable them to think about the future in a more positive light; and,
  • Quickly build their trust and confidence in me and my leadership such that, within a few days, the team move forward more positively.

Next month, I will share the other lessons I learned from this example and offer steps to build your curiosity and leadership learning.

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