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Leadership Pro Tip: Embrace a Curious Mindset

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it built the leader.

by Ernie Smith

A sense of curiosity can help uncover new ideas and get your brain tuned in to other kinds of thinking.

Leadership in many ways is built around making important decisions, and if you’re making the same types of decisions over and over, your leadership style might struggle as a result. 

But one way to fix that? An extra dose of curiosity. Research from SAS [PDF] shows that managers often see greater efficiency, productivity, and creative thinking from employees who show a stronger sense of curiosity. Managers say that curiosity comes in handy when coming up with new solutions (62 percent), followed by tackling complex problems (55 percent) and analyzing data (52 percent).

Accordingly, leaders need to get in a curious mindset themselves.

What's the Strategy?

Put yourself into situations that shake you out of looking at things in an accepted way, so your brain becomes more tuned in to other kinds of thinking. This can take various forms—Psychology Today has a few—but the goal is ultimately to drive a general excitement of thought.

One curiosity-boosting method that Inc. contributor Marcel Schwantes suggests is to look into reverse mentoring, in which older colleagues team with younger colleagues to gain new perspectives on, say, technology.

“Reverse mentoring recognizes that there are skills gaps on both sides, and that each person can address their weaknesses with the help of the other’s strengths,” he wrote.

Why Is It Effective?

The approach would involve raising your CQ, or curiosity quotient, which can help boost novelty and willingness to break from routine. According to a 2014 article from Harvard Business Review, there are signs that CQ can help lead to better decision making:

First, individuals with higher CQ are generally more tolerant of ambiguity. This nuanced, sophisticated, subtle thinking style defines the very essence of complexity. Second, CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art (note: this is of course different from IQ’s measurement of raw intellectual horsepower).

Schwantes wrote that this is desirable in a business environment, where decisions are heavily structured.

“If you’re in a bureaucratic environment, too often bureaucracy or the status quo drives us to stop being curious and asking questions, as we think we already have the answers,” Schwantes explained. “But by building your curiosity, and allowing others to do the same, we open ourselves up to new ideas that may solve complex problems at a much faster pace.”

What's the Potential?

Building a sense of curiosity can help lead to better solutions by showing a willingness to look beyond the obvious solution, something former Dow Chemical CEO Mike Parker once said in an interview.

“Sometimes they are afraid of asking questions, but what they don’t realize is that the dumbest questions can be very powerful,” Parker explained, according to Psychology Today. “They can unlock a conversation.”

On top of all that, having a sense of curiosity can help encourage you to learn new things on your own—which can put your own unique twist on research, rather than simply relying on Google. That sense of curiosity can lead to ideation beyond the obvious.

by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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