Leadership is a combination of attitude, activities and actions. One important attitude is the attitude of curiosity. Curious people make the best leaders. Because when you’re curious, you’re always learning, seeking more information, and talking with people rather than to them.
It’s true that good managers may have the solutions to our problems. They have answers. Sometime they even have the right answers. And that’s helpful. We like to get answers. When we get the answer, when we get the solution, we can solve our problem and get on to the next thing. And that’s what good managers help us do. Good managers solve our problems and help us get to our next step.
Good leaders won’t have the answers though. Good leaders — great leaders — have questions. They have an underlying curious nature, and that nature drives them to ask questions. Lots of questions, and the right questions.
When we ask the right questions, we uncover truths. And we take our people along on the journey of discovery. When confronted with a problem, with a challenge, the great leader will ask questions. What — precisely — is going wrong? What is going right? Why is this happening? Are the right people involved? Do we need more help? Less help? What do you think should be done? What would you like to have done?
Questions and curiosity also build capacity. When we take our people along on the trouble-shooting journey, we show them how to figure out such solutions themselves. A manager who gives her people the answer, has helped them solve that one problem. They haven’t learned how to solve any other problems, they don’t know which similar problems could be solved in a similar manner. When great leaders take their people along for the ride, when they display and model curiosity, they teach others how to build their own solutions. Soon, more people are able to create new solutions when they encounter new problems. Through their curiosity, leaders build capacity.
Being curious is an attitude, and recently I forgot that. My daughter’s Girl Scout troop is a camping troop. One hot spring weekend, we were just hanging out at the camp site before dinner. One of our Scouts approached me. “Miss Diane,” she called, “my head hurts.” Well, seeing how it was a hot day, that we had just finished swimming and canoeing, I was sure I knew what her problem was. “That’s because you’re dehydrated. You need to drink more water. You see,” I patiently instructed, “when you’re out on the water, sometimes you forget to drink enough. Your headache will go away if you drink plenty of water.” “Yea,” she replied cautiously, “that could be it. Or it could be that pole that I just walked into.” “Yep,” I agreed, chagrined by my arrogance, “that could be it.”
I was so quick to diagnose her and so interested in showing off my knowledge that I forgot to be curious. Now, when the Scouts tell me, “My hand hurts,” I ask, “What were you doing, right before your hand started hurting?” Oh, you grabbed a cactus? Okay. Let’s fix that.
We can best lead people when we understand them, and when we understand their situations. We can best lead when we are curious.