Curiosity Powers Leadership

By Teresa Dougherty

Dora the ExplorerIf yesterday’s leader was Superman, today’s leader is more Dora the Explorer, according to leadership experts, career counselors and even CEOs. It turns out, curiosity is a highly valued leadership trait for a business environment marked by innovation, transformation and renewal.

“Welcome to the era of the curious leader,” says Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.  In an article titled Why Curious People are Destined for the C-Suite, he says, “Success may be less about having all the answers and more about wondering and questioning.” Curiosity, he maintains, is critical to learning, innovation, success and even happiness.

In fact, researchers at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) found that CEOs rank curiosity at the top of their list of leadership attributes needed to succeed. In its annual Global CEO survey of more than 1,000 CEOs, PwC called out curiosity as a particularly important trait to leadership. “Being curious gives a CEO the insight to separate real change from temporary hype, and act decisively on the real change.”

As a “traditional” leader, have your super powers kept you from being more inquisitive? How do you become more curious if curiosity doesn’t come naturally?

Consider these approaches:

  • Start by asking questions. Too often in our culture, answers are valued more than questions. But, as a leader, being curious and asking powerful questions creates more informed opinions and allows you to offer more comprehensive advice. Be deliberate with your questions and make sure they are open-ended so you can receive thoughtful answers that help you make careful decisions.
  • Get with people. Go beyond Google to search for answers. Trust that you can learn when you are open-minded and engage with others around you. Be open to diverse opinions and ideas that might contradict your own. People like to be asked for input. Listen carefully, watch for nonverbal cues and be inspired. You may be surprised what problems you can help solve by watching and listening with an open heart.
  • Take calculated risks. Poet and essayist T.S. Elliot once said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Think Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg. Driven to innovate, each created his or her own vision by taking a risk. Take on something you don’t know how to do. A new hobby, activity, sport. Get out of the office, try a new process, don’t be afraid to fail. Exploring what’s possible helps you move forward.
  • Adopt humility. Taking yourself out of the equation enables you to become more deferential and more effective. Numerous studies show that leaders who step back and empower others to lead establish more effective teams. Humble leaders embrace ambiguity, learn from others and therefore are more willing to accept help when situations get tricky. Pastor and author Rick Warren may have put it best when he said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Ultimately, curiosity powers leadership by contributing to learning, growing and building trust among employees, clients and followers.


By Teresa Dougherty, strategic communications consultant,

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