Good Leaders Are Curious

good leadersLately, I have noticed that the seeming inability to have reasoned debate within the political climate has spilled over into the workplace. There seems to be a “my way or the highway” mentality seeping into professional environments which is not productive. People are taking sides and staking claim to their view with no room for understanding or compromise. I’m reminded that whenever one side is “right,” it automatically makes the other side “wrong” and no one likes to be wrong.

I think the first step toward better understanding of one another’s points-of-view is to stop rushing to judgment. Just stepping back a beat and pretending there might be another approach or that – gasp –  you might be wrong, are worthwhile steps. Being wrong is not the end of the world, it just means you have more to learn and isn’t that true of all of us? If we listened without judgment we might actually hear what the other side is saying.

If you are ready to practice, start with questions. “What” questions are usually the best and most effective for not conveying judgment. For example:

  • What makes you say that?
  • Tell me a little about how you came to that decision, belief, position, idea, etc.?
  • What other ways have you looked at?
  • Would you be open to a different point-of-view?

It’s important not to embed your idea or solution into the question, e.g. “have you thought of XYZ?” This is a subtle way of telegraphing what you believe is “right.” If someone wants to brainstorm with you, then that is a totally appropriate question. However, if you are genuinely being curious about how another person came to believe or do whatever they do then you must ask open-ended questions. It’s the only way they have space for their opinions and to create curiosity in them about your perspective.

Curiosity does not kill the cat, it leads to better understanding of why someone holds strongly – or not – to a particular view. Sometimes we are afraid to even ask a question for fear of offending another person. And yet, it is the questioning that leads to better understanding and more reasoned discussion about alternatives. Additionally, if you are in a position of power, people are less likely to question for fear of retaliation or being perceived as insubordinate. I think this is why so many really bad ideas get implemented – because those who wanted to question them stayed silent, and those who had the ideas didn’t allow themselves to be questioned.

If you are in that position of authority, you will have to open yourself up to being questioned and most importantly, being wrong. Being a good boss or leader is not about being right all the time, it’s about helping to surface the best ideas and talent to implement them. But this won’t happen within a culture that allows only judgment and no curiosity.

Let’s see if we can’t start a little more understanding of other perspectives by simply being curious. Try asking a few questions and be willing to be wrong. Ask without judgment and you might actually learn something new.