LeaderSight #1: Practicing Curiosity, Not Criticism

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It’s an attitude. Or maybe it’s more of a life-posture. Either way, after we practice it enough, it becomes a way of relating…a way of seeing life and engaging our reality. Leaders who practice curiosity over criticism are far more effective, discovering insights which equip them and others to solve problems, accelerate creativity, and generally raise the bar in their performance.

Here’s what I’m talking about. As human beings, we are “sense-makers,” constantly trying to understand what is happening around us. This ability and tendency, in its essence, is a great gift. Unfortunately, the tendency of many is to connect our critical self to this sense-making ability. We are talking “critical” in the negative sense. Criticism has its place, of course. It’s just not helpful early on as we are learning, discerning, and exploring what’s happening. Leaders who respond too early or too often with criticism will elicit negative unintended consequences. Leaders who respond early with curiosity elicit a completely different set of responses, largely positive and helpful.

My therapeutic training drove this LeaderSight (leadership insight)  home. As we were training to become therapists, we presented cases and engaged in counseling role plays as part of the process. Most of us jumped to conclusions about our clients, quickly making interpretation about what was happening. Inevitably, this short-circuited and flattened the exploration process. We beginning therapists had to learn to suspend the critical parts of our brains, while feeding our natural curiosity about people. When I began practicing therapy, curiosity became my best friend.

Since then, the wisdom and utility of this curiosity attitude for leaders has been confirmed so many times in leadership endeavors. Here’s what happens when leaders lead with curiosity instead of criticism:

  • Curious leaders are experienced as caring. Isn’t this the bottom line? When leaders care about the people whom they are leading in mission, then leadership grows more effective. When someone is curious about us, we feel cared for; loved. When a leader asks a question which shows she understands something about your situation, you are cared for. When a leader asks you to share more about your perspective on what’s happening, you are valued. When a leader is curious about the obstacles to progress, then your problem-solving ability is activated. Caring leaders can learn to use their curiosity to communicate their care for those they lead.  Curiosity communicates caring.
  • Curious leaders are experienced as more accepting and less judgmental. When leaders are confronted with a challenge or dilemma, responding with questions and inquiries, others perceive them as accepting. Curiosity communicates interest, regard, and some level of respect. When leaders respond initially with criticism, others perceive them as rejecting, uncaring, and resistant to input. Making the time to ask the second and third question, before offering an opinion, pays off in truckloads of good will for leaders. This is one way people (leaders or not) become more accepting….asking questions rather than first responding with opinions. Try this experiment in your leadership lab. Train yourself to respond with curiosity and then watch yourself become more accepting and less judgmental.
  • Curious leaders open channels of communication. Curious leaders invite us to share our perspectives. When communication flows, progress happens. When things go wrong, blocked communication is either a driver or symptom of the problems. Effective leaders use their curiosity to invite dialogue and conversation, leading to obstacle removal.
  • Curious leaders discover insights, solutions, and possibilities which they never would identify on their own. Emotional Intelligence research tells us that leaders who are open to the influence of others are far more effective than the “I’ll do it myself” types. Collective intelligence happens when leaders grow curious.  Those familiar with Appreciative Inquiry will recognize that curiosity drives that effective approach to leadership. When we harness the collective wisdom of our organizations, we discover pathways which were hidden beforehand.

Practicing curiosity rather than criticism.

That is LeaderSight #1

2 thoughts on “LeaderSight #1: Practicing Curiosity, Not Criticism

  1. J. Earl January 5, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

    Absolutely! Jesus….not surprisingly…was a master of this technique. Well stated. Earl


    • markt987 January 9, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Jan

      Good insight Earl. Not surprising either that you would have a good insight. Blessings on your Friday.


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