Curiosity Won’t Kill You, But…

Curiosity doesn’t kill cats or leaders. On the other hand, put blinders on to what is (reality), what could be (possibility), and what should be (vision) . . . and your nine lives in leadership will expire quickly. There’s a growing wake of individuals and companies who tanked in time because they dispensed answers instead of asking great questions. Choosing curiosity won’t kill you, your team, or your work in this world—but closing yourself off to it will.

You and the people you serve—both clients and customers—are desperate for you to stay curious. This fast-paced world needs humble, open-minded influencers who resist hasty conclusions and refuse to write off input.

Here are three, okay four, tricks of the leadership trade to boost your curiosity quotient right away. Seriously, pick one and try it out today. Choosing curiosity won’t kill you; it will breathe life into you, your team, and your work in this world.

1. What Do Aliens See?

Jerry Seinfeld asks an insightful question: “If space aliens are watching people walk their dogs, who’s the real leader?” [paraphrased] Stand-up comics do a great job looking at everyday life from an unbiased angle and find humor in it. What if you did the same, but to change the world? What’s going on in your sphere of influence that’s inadvertently sending the wrong message? How would an alien’s insights on your team meetings, business practices, customer service, product innovation, etc., help you bring your mission back to true north? Extraterrestrial beings may or may not exist—but you get the point of asking, “What do aliens see?” The fact is, leaders lose perspective when they get sucked in too close. Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie hits this hard leadership truth head on. If you want to shift from being closed off to curious, you need far-outside insights on up-close issues.

2. The Rule of 5

What’s your gut reaction when you get cut off in traffic? It’s probably one of two conclusions: A) they’re a terrible driver, or B) they did that on purpose! Polarizing your perspective is hasty leadership. The curious approach is to ask, “What are five reasons XYZ happened?” This powerful question can help when plans fall through, people misstep, and acts of God redirect events. Rather than jump to assuming incompetence or taking it personally, start by believing the best and fill in the gaps. Create a spectrum between the most innocent reasons and the worst, then add in at least three more that could be true. Try it out the next time someone jumps the line or seems to snub you in the hallway at work. Maybe they’re an idiot or ignored you, or maybe they were preoccupied with their last phone call, rehearsing their next pitch, or simply didn’t see you and would have gone out of their way to make your day if they had.

3. The Story I’m Telling Myself

People tend to fill in the gaps anytime they don’t know for sure what’s going on. They come up with reasons why their spouse acted or reacted a certain way, a colleague dominated a brainstorming session, board members spoke into a strategic decision, and so on. The good news is that leaders open themselves up to curiosity when they claim a new narrative on reality. Similar to The Rule of 5 above, learning to switch from “I can’t believe you did…” to “The story I’m telling myself is…” gives others the opportunity to own the motives behind their behavior. It also moves your heart from a place of judgment to a posture of hoping the best.

4. I Wonder

Walt Disney said, “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.” He lived out “I wonder…” consistently and led by the belief that curiosity wasn’t just for children. When you lead with the phrase “I wonder…” it draws everyone into new realms of what could be. It communicates you don’t have all the answers and opens minds to alternative explanations, ideas, solutions, and future realities. It gets you out of left-brain logic and into right-brain creativity. (Try it. Say “I wonder…” and see if you don’t naturally look up and to the right.) A quintessential leadership virtue, humility of heart thrives where “I wonder…” statements abound. As you seek to grow in curiosity, it won’t kill you to crank up your imagination—let it transform how you lead yourself, your team, and your work in the world.

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