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Why Curiosity is a Critical Trait for Agile Leaders


Technological advances, stakeholder activism, growing polarization, and a host of other disruptions are overturning the traditional definition of leadership. Today, the most pressing leadership challenges are often first-of-a-kind, highly complex, and related to forces that are difficult to identify. Conventional leadership mindsets that play it safe with strategies of the past rarely generate the innovative solutions needed to tackle the unprecedented challenges of an ever-changing world.

To lead with agility in such a dynamic environment, leaders need to foster a more open and exploratory approach to problem-solving. First, this requires becoming comfortable with ambiguity to see emerging opportunities and threats sooner and with more clarity. Then, they need to develop the ability to formulate original, breakthrough, and oftentimes untested ideas to respond to these opportunities. In other words, to lead with agility in an uncertain world executives need to cultivate a more curious mindset.

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Common barriers to curiosity Humans are hardwired for curiosity. It’s a critical trait that has evolved to support our survival and advance civilization. Yet cultivating a curious mindset can be difficult for even the most experienced executives. Some may have received business school or other training that emphasized technical skills and siloed ways of thinking that prevents them from exploring new approaches that stray from the orthodoxy of their training.

But a more likely reason may be that many executives simply haven’t had the opportunity to develop the mindsets and behaviors that make a person curious. The good news is that while some people are more genetically predisposed to have a curious mindset, the research shows that up to 60% of a person’s curiosity level is influenced by factors other than genetics. The even better news is that curiosity can be stimulated by changing how we approach a situation or challenge. Here are some mindset shifts and habits executives can explore to cultivate a more curious mindset and elevate their agile leadership abilities.

5 mindset shifts to increase curiosity

  1. Foster a growth mindset: Embrace the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort and practice. Approach challenges as opportunities for growth, and view failures as learning experiences (think “playing to win” instead of “playing not to lose”).

  2. Become comfortable with diverse perspectives: Seek out differing viewpoints and actively engage people from different backgrounds, disciplines, and cultures. This helps broaden your thinking and enables you to approach problems from multiple angles.

  3. Cultivate a learning mindset: Stay up to date with the latest trends, technologies, and developments in your field. Continuously learn and acquire new knowledge and skills to stay ahead of the curve.

  4. Embrace ignorance: Assuming you know everything about a topic is the easiest way to quell curious instincts. Bringing a beginner’s mind to even the most familiar situations can unlock new ways of thinking.

  5. Reevaluate old ways of thinking: By challenging existing ways of thinking leaders give themselves, and their teams, opportunities to discover more innovative solutions to old problems, while avoiding the trap of bringing old solutions to new challenges.

5 habits that stimulate curiosity

  1. Ask questions: Cultivate a habit of asking questions about the world around you. Don’t be afraid to question even the most basic concepts.

  2. Pursue diverse interests: Engage in a wide range of activities and explore subjects that are different from or adjacent to your area of expertise. This exposure to various fields and perspectives can spark curiosity and allow for interdisciplinary connections.

  3. Develop observational skills: Pay attention to events around you and observe details that others might overlook. This can spark new ideas or inspire innovative solutions to existing problems.

  4. Be an active listener: When engaging in conversations or presentations, listen attentively and ask follow-up questions. Show genuine interest in what others have to say and seek to understand their viewpoints.

  5. Be an active learner: Instead of being a passive consumer of information, actively participate in your learning process. Experiment, make connections between concepts and ideas, and apply knowledge to real-life situations.

Cultivating a curious mindset is a continuous journey that can unlock personal and professional creativity, growth, and success. It’s an ongoing process that requires practice and persistence and actively seeking out opportunities to learn and evolve.

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