Is Curiosity a Key Leadership Trait?

20170228_134806[1]I was flying home from a series of business meetings this past Friday and was unable to get a new post up on the site until today.

While I’m reading “Leading Change” by John Kotter for an upcoming collaboration meeting (and finding some strong, foundational reminders), my attention was caught on something else.

A recent article published at, titled; “What Happens When Leaders Lack Curiosity?” was stuck in the forefront of my mind.

Typically, most leadership articles cite the common traits or virtues of:

  • integrity (conforming, consistently to a set of rules)
  • vision (imagining and defining a preferred future state)
  • urgency/passion (harnessed drive to push for action and to resist passivity)
  • political savvy (to navigate among existing team’s concerns and overlaps)

While there’s no dispute that a leader may need to exhibit or hone many different skills, talents and competencies I had never heard of curiosity being part of that mix.

The co-authors make many great points about the upside of curious leaders and the downside of those who lack curiosity:

Curious leaders are:

  • Ready for the hike bsa 1911 handbookmore open to new experiences (challenge the norm)
  • tend to exhibit less prejudgement when confronted with problems¬†
  • accept people with a greater range of diversity in thought, action, biases
  • more likely to be tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty
  • less pressured by sub-optimal conditions (it’s a challenge not a setback)
  • more likely to consider a greater range of possible answers to a question, solutions to a challenge
  • more likely to accept mistakes as part of the learning process without feeling motivated to place blame or assign fault
  • often insatiably hungry to learn more, explore further, and challenge the norm to find a best possible solution
  • typically avid readers and researchers — seeking new tactics, products, technology, etc.

Un-curious leaders are more likely to:

  • create homogeneous teams
  • embrace safe, conservative approaches
  • replicate their past ideas, teams, solutions by mold or pattern form
  • have a high need for closure, often leading to micro-managing others’ efforts
  • shun ambiguity and uncertainty in favor of predictable processes
  • seek to validate their conclusions
  • preserve the core while avoiding genuine innovation
  • resist change
  • seek, reinforce and embrace conformity

The article wraps up by offering five behavioral characteristics that signal curiosity in leaders:

  1. Generating original ideas from their teams
  2. Questioning their own assumptions and practices
  3. Admitting their own mistakes, and turning them into valuable lessons
  4. Being more interested in asking questions (and listening) than in giving answers (and talking)
  5. Being energized, rather than intimidated, by complexity

I found the discussion of curiosity refreshing and unexpected. There are, perhaps, additional descriptors of highly effective leaders that we’ve overlooked in the past.

What do you think?

  • Does a strong leader need to be curious?
  • Could curiosity be a “bad thing” in some situations or scenarios?
  • Will curiosity become more important as we head towards a greater reliance on Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics in business settings?

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