Using Curiosity to Lead During Uncertain Times
The role of curiosity as an essential leadership trait has been highlighted time and time again, especially throughout the pandemic and beyond. Organisations everywhere now recognise that curious leaders bring growth and innovation with them. At Imagine Beyond, we see curiosity as a valued leadership attribute. Our own analysis of the twelve traits that make up entrepreneurial leadership has shown that curiosity is the fuel that sparks business transformation. We believe that successful businesses need curious leaders to help them navigate uncertainty and change, drive growth and rally their employees in the process.
How can being a curious leader have such an impact on business strategy and operations?
Throughout periods of change, curiosity can provide the bridge from fear into courage. By getting curious, entrepreneurial leaders can gain insight from this awareness. Which in turns enables them to move towards what feels uncomfortable, rather than away from it, turning challenges into opportunities along the way. The good news? Curiosity is a trait we all share. Most of us, if not all of us, are deeply curious about something. “As an entrepreneurial leader, you learn to tap into this curiosity in a way that brings value to the business, its customers and its people,” says Claire Koryczan, Founder of Imagine Beyond.
Using curiosity to unlock entrepreneurial leadership
According to Ian Leslie’s book, Curious, curiosity is the fourth human drive. Indeed, we are all curious by nature, and it is a fundamental part of being human. Whether you need to dismantle the toaster when it inexplicably stops working, to understand the chemical process that makes dough rise, or to dig deep into why something didn’t work, you are demonstrating curiosity on a regular basis. Entrepreneurial leaders have simply learnt to harness this skill and use it in a way that benefits the organisation and its wider ecosystem.
How does curiosity manifest itself in a leadership context? When faced with uncertainty, entrepreneurial leaders look both inward and outward to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. They have quality conversations and actively listen to what is being said. This involves inviting different perspectives, exploring and discovering what’s important, and how they can add value. This knowledge is then used to spot opportunities others might not have seen, paving the way for innovation.
Curiosity as a tool for innovation
Curiosity means gaining insight, seeing beyond and connecting the dots. This starts by knowing the right questions to ask: the kind of questions that will surface new opportunities. “Being curious is about seeking to understand first. It leads to a greater depth of understanding about what’s important for your customers, and how you can make their lives better,” says Claire. “The goal is to find ways to fulfil their unmet needs,” she adds.
By being interested in their customers’ world and getting to know their pain points and challenges, curious leaders are able to create value for them, and for the business. However, this doesn’t mean coming up with a new revolutionary product every quarter. Some of the best examples of curiosity leading to great innovations are quite small, and simply aim to smooth out some of the bumps in the customer journey. They are also born out of having regular, meaningful conversations with customers and inviting them to engage in ongoing dialogue.
Being curious about your employees’ needs
We all know that no business can achieve their goals alone, let alone survive. Being an entrepreneurial leader requires more than giving employees what they need to get the job done: it requires being the kind of passionate, creative leader they want to work with every day.
Curiosity is an essential part of entrepreneurial leadership. Curious leaders understand that the kind of energy and high motivation they look for in their team doesn’t just happen on its own. It is created by design, through an individualised approach. Passionate team leaders get to know the people on their team on a deeper level, and find out how to contribute to their growth. They commit to helping them develop their skills by finding out what motivates them, what their goals are and what they need in order to give the best performance.
Becoming a better leader through self-awareness
Digging deeper into your customers, the organisation, its processes and its employees is one thing. But the role self-awareness plays when it comes to being an effective leader cannot be underestimated. In order to understand how to get the best out of others, leaders first need to understand how to get the best out of themselves. So how does being self-aware contribute to better leadership skills?
By understanding what drives you and what your purpose is, you will be able to stay true to your vision. You will have a deep understanding of your role within the organisation and its ecosystem, as well as of how you interact with others to make it happen. This knowledge is acquired through introspection. It requires giving yourself space and time to slow down and reflect, particularly when faced with uncomfortable situations. Throughout periods of change, take time to pause and find out why you are reacting in a certain way. Ask yourself what is holding you back from making courageous decisions, and how you can move away from fear and towards courage.
Being self-aware leads to a better understanding of others, whether they are your customers or your people. In fact, according to Daniel Goleman, author of the book Emotional Intelligence, psychologist and science journalist: “IQ and technical skills are important, but emotional intelligence is the key attribute for managing people.”
How are curiosity, courage and innovation linked?
It could seem that being a curious leader is merely about asking a few questions. However, it goes deeper than this. Being a curious leader means having the fortitude to ask powerful questions that unlock insight and deliver business transformation. It means not being afraid to discover and do something different for the greater good of the organisation. This can be a tough process, requiring facing some difficult emotions, asking ourselves why we react in a certain way, or receiving feedback that’s difficult to hear. But it is an essential part of becoming a great leader, and one that our Entrepreneurial Leadership programme can help facilitate.
What happens once you’ve asked the right (difficult) questions, and gained a good understanding of how to add value to your business, its customers and its people? With the information collected from a variety of sources, great leaders are able to get on with creating and designing new ways to improve both the customer and employee experience. Thus moving on to the next trait of entrepreneurial leadership, which we’ll explore in our next blog: innovation.
In the meantime, taking the next step towards becoming an entrepreneurial leader requires asking yourself a simple question each time you are faced with uncertainty: “How can I truly deliver value to the organisation right now?”