Curiosity gets a bad rap. The simple act of asking questions has a two-way "doom effect" (you are doomed if you do and doomed if you do not). On one side, you risk looking A) stupid B) unaware C) passive or D) all the above—and then you are demoted to the basement office. On the other side, you risk not having the information you need to make the right decisions.
The thing is, intellectual curiosity is what allows you to navigate the unknown. When asked to name the one attribute leaders will need most to succeed amidst change, Michael Dell of Dell, Inc., replied, “I would place my bet on curiosity.”
Every new innovation, bright idea, new management theory or best practice begins with one of two types of curiosity. The first is a state of curiosity, where you wonder how on earth anybody can drive so slow in the “fast lane” while still calling himself a driver. The other is a character trait—a perpetual mindset of inquiry that distinguishes the intellectually curious from the mentally stagnant or apathetic.
The problem with curiosity, however, is that it is easy to fake. We have all met people who appear to be interested in others but are really just looking for “ins” into which they can inject their own knowledge and come away the hero. Additionally, the act of questioning is intimidating, because leaders want to appear smart, and if they ask questions, then the assumption follows that they are not.
Not true. Here are four ways asking questions makes you a better leader:
1. It demonstrates humility.
Leadership guru Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, cites two characteristics of those leaders who were able to transform their companies from, well, good to great: will and humility. Having the fierce resolve—the will to wither the storm of uncertainty is a must-have for any leader, hands down.
Possessing humility, however, is not as intuitive. Humble people are oftentimes viewed as weak or passive, but the fact is, humility beckons selflessness, and that’s exactly what drives high performance organizations—leaders who place the purpose of the company first and themselves last.
2. It encourages individual thought.
Questioning is at the core of leadership coaching, because it places the onus of deep thought upon the client, which turn into insights. Open-ended questions that spur thought and explanation—as opposed to closed-ended questions that demand a yes or no—give insight into how individuals think as well as builds their capacity for critical thinking.
3. It builds rapport.
The one topic most people enjoy talking about is themselves. Make them feel good during the conversation—and they attribute that positivity to you. Questioning is how you get there.
4. It incites solution-finding.
There is a difference between the terms “problem-solving” and “solution-finding.” The former indicates a static state, whereas the latter connotes one that is forward leaning. One of the ways successful companies consistently distinguish themselves from their competitors is by critically examining firm performance and finding solutions to old problems—where “old” could be as the last month.
To stay on the competitive edge, you must continually learn and adapt, and that means asking tough question that demand uncomfortable answers and finding ways to implement solutions.
If you do not think curiosity has its place in today’s fast-paced world, then I challenge you to go one day at work without asking any questions. Without curiosity there’s no direction.
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