If you want to innovate, if you want to create, if you want to develop a new product — or even instill a new habit — start with a question.
The most effective leaders don’t speak to you, they speak with you. They see conversation as an opportunity to discover and they do so by posing new questions. They lead with curiosity.
When you lead with curiosity you lead with character over competence. To lead with competence is to tell everybody how awesome you are at your skill, but if you’re that good, then you don’t need to tell them because they already know. However, when you lead with curiosity, you share your character.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anybody who’s ever suffered from too much awareness. That’s what curiosity does — it fosters greater awareness through the intellectual version of lead generation.
If you’re a writer, an entrepreneur, a marketing consultant, or a business owner, then you know how important your email list is. An email list is the list of people who like, trust, and respect you. They’re your clients, your fanbase, your supporters. They are what help build and sustain your brand.
Now, in order to build your email list you need to generate new leads, which comes by way of a lead magnet or some other opt-in bonus — and that’s exactly what questions are.
Questions are “opt-in bonuses” that convey to others that you’re more interested in them than in yourself. So what happens? They “subscribe “— to you.
Questions have the potential to produce new insights, new ideas, and new solutions.
The problem isn’t information. We live in a sea of information that causes us to constantly gasp for air. Every day there are new waves of emails, unforeseen office fires, data and information that all want to drown us out from the important matters and inundate us with urgent ones.
We don’t need more information. What’s needed is a mental framework for navigating the information we already have. We need a smarter way to apply our minds to what already exists — not seek more of what doesn’t exist yet.
If you already have information at your fingertips, the key lies not in finding more of it but in learning how to apply the right question to find it.
Curiosity leads to new thoughts and perspectives. It’s what allows us to break away from the status quo of talking and model a new path of asking.
When you ask — when you lead with curiosity — you’re looking for two things:
1) why things are the way they are
2) why they’re not some other way
Curious leaders — influential leaders — look for what they don’t know rather than confirm what they believe they do. The only way to do that is by asking questions.
One simple question can be the pathway between the status quo and salvation.
“We run this company on questions, not answers.” — Eric Schmidt, CEO Google
Here are five reasons why leading with curiosity will improve your leadership impact:
Curiosity creates clarity.
Leadership is a two-sided coin. Good leaders know when to talk and provide direction but they also know when to listen, learn, and lead with curiosity.
When you lead with curiosity you not only forge greater clarity but you also gain insight into how others think, which informs your next move (or question) as a leader. Examples of simple questions are:
Curiosity helps you assess.
For job interviews, Thomas Edison invited potential new hires over to his house for dinner. If the applicant added salt to his meal before tasting it, he didn’t get the job.
Applicants who salted their meals before tasting it didn’t question the status quo; they didn’t question whether or not it needed salt in the first place.
Edison only hired people who were willing to subjugate what they assumed for what might be. He didn’t want people who only sought to confirm their own biases. He wanted people who questioned what they did before doing it.
Curiosity helps you make better decisions.
One of the most important roles as a leader is to make well-informed decisions, but you can’t do this if you’re “big picture” is incomplete.
Curiosity is what excavates those tiny insights that you’d otherwise miss into a tangible awareness you can pull from. Remember, people won’t know what to share if they don’t know what’s important — that’s why operating on a need-to-know basis only works for very specific cases.
Curiosity helps you discover potential.
There’s only one way to discover a strong leader: you know what strong leadership looks like. If you’re clear on what’s important and what’s valued then that means you can describe it, you can articulate it, you can write it down. If you can’t articulate what you want then you’re not clear yet. Here are 11 places to start:
1. Attitude — Is their attitude inspiring, or do they make me want to tear my hair out?
2. Confidence — Do they think less of themselves or think of themselves less?
3. Humility — Are they willing to raise their hand and say, “I don’t know. Please explain.”
4. Chemistry — Is this person likable?
5. Capacity — Are they driven to grow? To develop? To mature into a better version of themselves?
6. Decisions — How do they make decisions and how will their decision-making process influence the outcome?
7. Presence — How does their presence influence others — positively, negatively, not at all?
8. Learnability — Are they willing to learn and unlearn?
9. Core — Are they a good person at their core? And are their values compatible with mine/ours?
10. Team — Do they put the mission or the team first, or are they the first thing in their (own) minds?
11. Solution — Do they offer creative solutions; are they value-added or are they just an “add-on”?
“The person best equipped to solve a problem is the one who faces it every day.” — Just Ask Leadership
Humility — true humility — is a rare breed. There are plenty — lots! — of leaders, authors, speakers, and consultants who say they’re humble and who say humility is important, but they don’t actually show it.
Want to know the best way to know if somebody is truly humble or just blowing “humility smoke” up your ass? Put them in an unexpected situation. Have them work with different people. Mix things up for them and then see how they react. What you’re looking for is how they interact with others. Do they promote themselves by talking about their past successes? Do they talk about how skilled they are? Do they make it clear that they know the secret Harvard handshake (because that’s where they went to school since they’re “sooo smart”)?
You know when somebody is humble and when they’re an arrogant ass. Humility makes whereas arrogance takes. When you lead with curiosity you make new discoveries by way of asking, as opposed to talking that takes opportunities for discovery away.
If you want greater impact, lead with curiosity. Period.
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