Productive Curiosity in Leadership

Oftentimes, we think leaders have it all figured out. And we would hope so…they’re the people we’re looking to! However, there is a common misconception that leaders need to be experts in all areas of their business. Many owners think they have to fix everything themselves, which is a pressure cooker mindset that can quickly lead to burnout!

Truthfully, the best leaders are the ones who are continuous learners and seek to understand multiple perspectives. Instead of trying to solve all of the problems on their own, they learn how to ask powerful questions, listen for meaning, collaborate to develop a plan, and then experiment with new solutions. The start to this journey can be summarized down into two important words: get curious.

Productive curiosity is an essential process for leaders that can also be quite fun! Put on a beginner’s mindset and examine the work within your organization. Imagine you’re walking in for the first time! What do you see? Who can help you understand what is happening every day? What is the general mood of the place? It’s about going to the source; so if you’re curious about how a new process is working, go to where the process actually happens. Listen to those responsible, engage them with questions, and absorb any helpful details! 

What makes curiosity “productive”?  Quite simply, taking a brief moment to ask the right questions will get you to longer lasting solutions more quickly.  It will take us much longer to solve problems if they only viewpoint we seek is our own.  

Asking powerful questions is another component of developing compassionate candor. Powerful questions help you get to the core of the matter quickly and effectively. Often, people use questions with the intention of leading the discussion in a certain direction. The questions they pose are usually focused on having their own needs met rather than the needs of the other person. An open and curious mind is required for powerful questions to work. Powerful questions are typically brief, no more than seven words. They should be simple, direct, and open-ended, meaning you’re looking for more than a yes or no answer. Critically, they don’t insert a desired or suspected answer, and they don’t take an accusatory tone. For example, instead of asking “What do you think about changing the process to _____”, ask “What do you think we should do”? Notice how the latter question is much more empowering, respectful, and creative overall. Powerful questions such as these are key, for they pave the way for proper curious engagement. As Tony Robbins reminds us, “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result they get better answers”.  

Lastly, it’s important to remember that this type of curiosity is about learning new information, not sharing what you know. Engage your team to find solutions, and seek guidance from others. Refrain from suggesting your own solutions on the spot. You won’t have enough information to wade in after only one or two observations. A truly curious leader can let go of their assumptions about the “right” way to do things and be open to suggestions, feedback, and observations from the people on the ground. A leader with a curious mind will have a greater breadth of information from which to make decisions, and will most likely enjoy the exploration process. So go! See what’s out there and what your people have to say about it!

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About Amy Lafko

As a Physical Therapist, Amy spent years in school learning best practices for patient care and how to put the patient first. Like so many technically skilled clinicians, she advanced to a leadership role. Spending 20+ years in operational leadership, she had an epiphany: Putting the customer first isn’t the path to success or fulfillment. Rather, the most successful organizations and practices put their people first – and exceptional customer care, profitability, and effectiveness naturally followed.