Sunday, December 6, 2009

Are You a Curious Leader?

A sign in a window of an English company read: We have been established for over one hundred years and have been pleasing our displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coal rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next.

The late Walter Pater said, “What we have to do is be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions.” I believe that curious leaders are the life blood of any organization. I also believe when leaders cease to be curious that is when creativity begins to wane.

What are you curious about? What grabs your attention and captures your imagination? Here is how I would define a curious leader. To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list, so see how these apply to you.

A curious leader asks a lot of questions. Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” Asking questions is the pathway to understanding.

Remember when your children were small and their eyes were opening to the world around them? When my two girls were growing up, like many parents, I thought I would go crazy with all the questions of, “Daddy, is the moon made of cheese?” Daddy, how does Santa Claus get in the house when we don’t have a chimney?” Remember those days?

Perhaps the next gathering around the table in the board room ought to be a return to the innocence and wonderment of eyes open to new possibilities that you did not realize existed. Perhaps James Thurber was on to something when he said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

A curious leader challenges old assumptions. Your way forward, especially in this economy, is though fresh eyes and clear thinking. Alan Alda said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or light won’t come in.”

A curious leader will be in the forefront of this new paradigm of challenge and must make curiosity comfortable for those more skeptical. Guardians of tradition will no doubt feel threatened by this new way of thinking, not understanding the greater threat of the status quo.

Stephen R. Covey said, “We simply assume the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.” Curiosity is the way out of the rut many organizations find themselves in. The day your team is free to challenge old assumptions is the day your organization begins to rise to a new level.

Curious leaders are willing to take risks. The end result of questions and challenges to old assumptions are but one thing – action. Think of all the modern conveniences of life that you enjoy today. We enjoy them because at some point, questions were asked, assumptions were challenged, and decisions were made.

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke at Rice University where he delivered his famous speech challenging the nation to reach for the stars and to put a man on the moon before the decade was over.

Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Was the goal lofty, was it inspiring, and risky? The answer to all three is obvious. Yet, Kennedy believed it was attainable. Curious leaders are not comfortable with the status quo, believe that the challenges before us are worthy of our efforts, and that our dreams are worth the risk.

What are you curious about?

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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