leaders meeting

There is a great saying “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room”. The message behind this has merit as it assumes that there is more to learn elsewhere, but in doing so maybe the greatest chance for learning is missed. Instead of looking to switch rooms, perhaps the real development opportunity is to enter each meeting with the curiosity to leverage the best out of each participant.

We have all been in meetings where the leader spent the majority of their time positioning their point of view and recruiting as many people as possible to subscribe to their plan, approach or idea. Or perhaps you can recall a time when the leader spent most of the discussion downloading their knowledge and telling participants the solution. There is no question that leaders have earnt their position on the ladder but how far up could they climb if they had the courage to lead with curiosity?

Curiosity is an essential leadership behaviour

If you are looking for a role model for curious leadership look no further than the late Steve Jobs. Arguably, it was Steve’s relentless curiosity that proved so instrumental to his success in the continual evolution of Apple. In addition to always listening to what ‘was not said’ and probing with questions like “What are we missing?”, or “Tell me a perspective that I have not considered?”, Steve was able to instinctively draw workers into meaningful and productive conversations that built trust, engagement and innovation.

Curiosity is a critical skill for change and transformative growth, yet many workplaces do not focus on harnessing this as a foundation skill for every employee. When done well, curiosity builds authentic employment relationships, trust and engagement by the value it instils in each worker’s contribution.

Why curiosity is an elite communication skill

There has never been a more important time for workplaces to get curious and to build this competency amongst their leaders. It may be considered an ‘elite’ communication skill but it is easier than you may think to master.

Quite simply, curiosity is about asking questions and actively listening. It is about removing the temptation to say “no”, “you’re wrong” or “I don’t agree” and replacing it with insightful, reflective and open questions to gain the information or perspective needed.

For many workers, the first default is to push back or to state why their opinion is better. Here are 5 framing questions that build the skill of curiosity when you do not agree:

  1. That’s an interesting perspective. Tell me more about how you see that working?”
  2. I would like to better understand your point of view. Would you mind walking me through how you landed on that resolution?”
  3. I had not considered that customer strategy, however it has captured my interest. Can you take me through the key considerations that led to this outcome?”
  4. While your perspective is different to mine, I would value you explaining why this is important to you?”
  5. “Your recommendation is something that I have not considered. Can you help me to understand why you feel this is the best solution?”

The company value you have been looking for

Walk into any business and you will see the company values proudly displayed in meeting rooms and where you make your coffee. ‘Respect’, ‘Integrity’, ‘Family’ and ‘Inclusive’ are just some of the popular values. But is it time your organisation added ‘Curious’ as a key value?

When an organisation models a culture of curiosity it is more than words on a page. It is the CEO saying, “Ask me any question, ask the customers questions, and importantly: ask each other”. It is about removing the fear of judgement and learning that hierarchy has no place when brainstorming, innovating or searching for unique solutions.  

More often than not it is the frontline worker that can solve a complex customer issue or the salesperson who can see the blockage in production. It can even be the newest team member that has the perfect solution to an old issue but they are unlikely to have the confidence to share it if the leaders are not curious enough to listen.

It is the role of the senior leaders to make it safe for all team members to speak up and encourage curiosity at every level. Different opinions should always be considered a welcome visitor that brings robust discussion to reach new levels. Ultimately, it is the diversity of thought and experience in a room that leverages everyone’s talents and drives the strongest innovation, collaboration and success.

Overcoming the desire to be right

Sometimes a leader’s ego or the desire to be right is more important to them than finding the correct solution. They may feel that they need to be the smartest person in the room, who brings all of the answers, or even believe that they are too smart for the room that they are in.

The truth is that we all have cognitive bias that prevents us from seeing our flaws and how our behaviour impacts others. Instead of needing to be the smartest, perhaps the curious leaders will reap a more satisfying outcome of collaboration and innovation, and realise that they have been in the right room all along.

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information. Ai Group offers a range of learning and development programs to bring out the best in employees on their leadership journey.

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Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.