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Leadership & Curiosity

Have you ever noticed how the best leaders also tend to be the most curious leaders? Great leaders simply aren’t satisfied with what they know. They possess an insatiable curiosity for discovery and learning – they are in constant pursuit of what they don’t know. Real leaders are not nearly as concerned with the status quo (stasis) as they are with betterment (change). Since the dawn of time the world has been shaped by leaders who understand curiosity is the gateway to the future. So my question is this – How curious are you?

Among many other things, curiosity helps frame vision, advances learning, fuels passion, and drives innovation. Curiosity often inspires the courage to discuss the un-discussable, challenge current thinking, deviate from behaviors accepted as normal, and to do what others previously thought impossible. By the way, smart leaders realize the plausibility of impossibility only becomes a probability with the disappearance of leadership, and real leadership demands curiosity.

The best leaders understand that usual and customary are not necessarily synonymous with healthy and thriving. The real key to curiosity begins with an open mind – a recognition that those who think differently aren’t inferior, nor are they a threat. An open mind is a sign of confidence which allows leaders to recognize diversity of opinion leads to better thinking, better discovery, and better outcomes.

Here’s where I’m going to throw you a curve ball – while great leaders tend to spend most of their time being externally focused, I want you to turn your curiosity inward and become introspective for a few moments. It was Socrates who said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you did some serious self-examination on how your curiosity, or the lack thereof, is impacting your ability to function as a leader? Be curious enough to answer the following four questions about yourself:

  1. Are you making a difference? Why should anyone be led by you? Great leaders answer this question with their actions on a daily basis. If you’re not making a difference, you’re not leading. If your actions are not directly contributing to the betterment of those you lead, then you need to become curious about how to make some very real and meaningful changes.
  2. Are you growing? If you’re not growing as a person and as a leader, then it’s very likely those under your charge are following your lead. I’ve often said it’s impossible for a leader who is not growing to lead a growing organization. Nobody is too busy to learn. In fact, you don’t have the time not to learn. Leaders who don’t value learning will quickly be replaced by those who do.
  3. Is your curiosity starting conversations, or your lack thereof shutting them down? If your ego is messaging you have all the answers, and that your way is the only way, then why would anyone ever be inspired to pursue change and innovation? A leader who doesn’t encourage others to challenge their thinking isn’t a leader – they’re a dictator. Dictators suppress individual thought and new ideas, while leaders encourage it at all costs.
  4. Is your curiosity attracting talent, or your lack thereof chasing it away? A leader’s ability to seek out and embrace new ideas will serve as a magnet for attracting the best talent. The best talent desires to be a part of a culture that encourages contribution rather than stifling it. If you’re the leader who looks around the organization and asks “why can’t we attract better talent?” it’s because you value a compliant workforce more than a talented workforce. Real leaders don’t care who is right, they care about what is right – never forget this.

Bottom line – don’t settle for “what is”, use your curiosity to think “what if?” and seek out “what can be.”

Thoughts? I’m curious…


Image credit: Curious George

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    Scott Mackes

    September 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Compliant workforce vs. talented workforce. I love that. I can’t say that I’ve respected a single leader who valued a compliant workforce over a talented one. Well said Mike.


      Mike Myatt

      September 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Scott.


    Kent Julian

    September 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Powerful questions, Mike. Love the focus on curiosity! A very powerful, but often overlooked, key to success in life and leadership.

    What’s more, engaging in honest self-evaluation is definitely a key to unlock possibilities for success and leadership growth. In fact, great minds think alike. Here’s a post that runs along the same vein as yours. Check it out:


      Mike Myatt

      September 4, 2012 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, as well as for sharing your link Kent.



    October 18, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Excellent view Mike and great questions. The only way to reinvent yourself every 5-10 years is by staying curious and nurture your will to change and move to the next level. Wondering where knowledge comes into the equations.


      Mike Myatt

      October 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Marteen:

      Thanks for your comment. In answer to your question, knowledge should still curiosity it should fuel it. The quest for knowledge should only cause a person to be even more curious in their pursuit of excellence.


    Peter Zipp

    October 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    You are absolutely correct! Sadly, the people who most need to get this message, the “knowers”, will never read it (after all, they already “know” it all). Our best hope is to discredit the influence of these “knowers”. To quote Bertrand Russell:
    “The whole problem with the world is that fools
    and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of


      Mike Myatt

      October 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Peter:

      You’re correct in that we do find ourselves in sad times. It has always been easier to pursue folly than wisdom, but now it’s become socially and politically acceptable. Thanks for sharing Peter.

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