3 ways to cultivate curiosity and why that’s important

3 ways effective leaders cultivate curiosity

Most breakthrough discoveries and inventions – from making a fire to ChatGPT – are the result of curiosity. Leaders that value curiosity help their organizations adapt to uncertain market conditions and both internal and external pressures. Curiosity helps to boost employee performance and wellbeing.

The curiosity effect

Ted – CEO of a nonprofit – had to temporarily work two of the roles on his leadership team whilst recruiting for replacements. He soon realized he didn’t have answers to every question that came his way. What he needed was the curiosity to think more deeply and creatively about the challenges facing his organization.

Tenelle Porter – a postdoctoral scholar in psychology at UC Davis – describes that the best leaders have intellectual humility, plus the ability to acknowledge that what we know is sharply limited. Why? When we accept that our own knowledge is finite, we are more open to see that the world is always changing. By embracing this insight, leaders and their teams can begin to recognize the power of exploration.

When you’re faced with a challenge at work, do you use the same old tried-and-tested method to solve it? Or, do you take the time to ask these questions to understand things as they truly are before coming to a conclusion, decision, or action?

  1. Do I know what’s important to me?
  2. Do I know what’s important to the others involved?
  3. Do I know what’s important about the situation?

What gets in the way of curiosity?

Sometimes leaders fear they’ll be judged as incompetent, indecisive, or unintelligent for showing curiosity. Plus, time is precious, and they don’t want to bother people in their organization with questions.

These misplaced fears and beliefs are called saboteurs. That’s because they sabotage us by  distorting the story. These saboteurs – in our survivor brain – have a confirmation bias that limits exploration. This bias looks for confirmation of existing viewpoints and avoids discovering what might challenge that viewpoint or even make life easier.

3 ways to effectively cultivate curiosity

When we’re fully in exploration mode – without agenda and saboteurs – we’re free from interference, and we’re able to demonstrate curiosity by asking questions about ourselves, others, and the circumstances. We find out what is truly happening, promote more meaningful connections, more creative outcomes and have more fun.

1 Get curious about yourself

Am I in the right mindset to be curious? When we’re in a positive mindset, we’re present, authentic, and we acknowledge we’re a perfectly imperfect human being who doesn’t have all the answers.

When leaders like Ted concede that they don’t have the answer to a question, they show that they value the process of looking for answers and motivate others to explore as well.

So get curious! Ask yourself: Am I in a positive mindset to explore without judgment? Do I know what’s most important to me? If you are in a negative mindset these 3 steps can help to recover faster to a positive mindset:

  1. Intercept your saboteursby noticing negative emotions and thoughts – like judgment, stress, and self-doubt – that sabotage you. Label those as saboteurs and let go.
  2. Reset byfocusing on one thing – like taking a few deep breaths – to get into a positive mindset, and let go of your thoughts.
  3. Create joyful exploration energy by remembering the last time you were in that mindset.

2 Get curious about others

The same applies to getting curious about others. Do you know what’s most important to other people involved? No? Ask them questions and listen. Put yourself in their shoes and take an interest in their ideas and feelings.

Get curious about other functions of the business as well. Great leaders understand that they have to possess a working knowledge of other functional roles across the business to become more effective in their own role.

For example, as a leader in engineering, it’s helpful to know how the supply chain works, how to read a profit and loss statement, and the different aspects of marketing. To achieve this we can take advantage of stretch assignments in other departments,  shadow colleagues and spend time in informal social situations to get to know different team members.

3 Get curious about the situation

Do you know what’s important about a situation? Explore industry trends, recent data and new ways of thinking, and ask yourselves and your team ‘what if’? What is one thing you’re curious about that’s important to know in order to arrive at the best conclusion, decision, or action?

High-performing leaders challenge the thinking of themselves and others on their team, and encourage and model a sense of wonder. They look for ways to improve learning and discovery because they realize it’s a necessity to adapt to uncertain market conditions, internal and external pressures, and boost their organization’s performance and wellbeing.

Curiosity is contagious. Be curious, ask questions without blame and judgment, listen and have fun!

Coaching can help you cultivate curiosity. You can get in touch via my website vdbcoach.com or LinkedIn. Talk to you soon!