This week’s guest writer is my friend Lynne Brown. Lynne lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. Like me, she is a Professional Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation. Lynne is a wise and experienced coach whose clients are fortunate to be working with her. I thank her for contributing to this leadership newsletter.
I frequently recommend curiosity over defensiveness—the moment you notice yourself becoming defensive is when you need to change your mindset and move to curiosity. Your defensiveness is a signal to you that there is something you need to be learning here—about:

– unspoken expectations, misperceptions,

-how your behavior impacts others, and

-how your “right” may be their “wrong”

Your curiosity also gives you space to “self-regulate” and become thoughtful in the dialogue rather than reactive.

Here are some additional curiosity tips from an HBR Article titled “The Benefits of Curiosity” by Franco Gino (Fall 2018).

In most organizations, leaders and employees alike receive the implicit message that asking questions is an unwanted challenge to authority. They are trained to focus on their work without looking closely at the process or their overall goals.

But maintaining a sense of wonder is crucial to creativity and innovation. The most effective leaders look for ways to nurture their employees’ curiosity to fuel learning and discovery. The benefits of curiosity are:

-fewer decision-making errors,
-more innovation and positive changes in both creative and noncreative jobs,
-reduced group conflict,
-more-open communication, and
-better team performance.

Two barriers to curiosity are leaders possessing the wrong mindset about exploration, and thinking that allowing employees follow their own curiosity will lead to a costly mess. These leaders instead seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.

Five Strategies to Bolster Curiosity

1. Hire for Curiosity.

As Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011, has said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” Google identifies naturally curious people through interview questions such as these: “Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent?” The answers usually highlight either a specific purpose driving the candidate’s inquiry (“It was my job to find the answer”) or genuine curiosity (“I just had to figure out the answer”).

2. Model Inquisitiveness.

Leaders can encourage curiosity throughout their organizations by being inquisitive themselves. By asking questions and genuinely listening to the responses, — It helps us fill gaps in our knowledge and identify other questions to investigate. Management books commonly encourage leaders assuming new positions to communicate their vision from the start rather than ask employees how they can be most helpful. It’s bad advice.

When leaders concede that they don’t have the answer to a question, they show that they value the process of seeking answers and they motivate others to explore as well. Recognizing the limits of our own knowledge and skills sends a powerful signal to others. Leaders can model inquisitiveness by approaching the unknown with curiosity rather than judgment.

3. Emphasize Learning Goals.

Those who are passionate about continuous learning contemplate a wide range of options and perspectives. It’s natural to concentrate on results, especially in the face of tough challenges. But focusing on learning is generally more beneficial to us and our organizations. Leaders can help employees adopt a learning mindset by communicating the importance of learning and by rewarding people not only for their performance but for the learning needed to get there.

Leaders can also stress the value of learning by reacting positively to ideas that may be mediocre in themselves but could be springboards to better ones. Pixar uses a technique called “plussing,” which involves building on ideas without using judgmental language. Instead of rejecting an idea, someone says, “I like Woody’s eyes, and what if we…?” Someone else might jump in with another “plus.”

4. Let Employees Explore and Broaden Their Interests.

Leaders can reward people for learning as well as performance. Employees can “travel” to other roles and areas of the organization to gain a broader perspective. Teammates can also broaden their interests by expanding their networks. Curious people often end up being star performers thanks to their diverse networks.

5. Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.

Curiosity is one of the most valuable assets in any leader’s tool kit. Thank you, Lynne for giving us this critical reminder!!!

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