The Most Important Leadership Trait You Need To Succeed

I’ve long suspected that the most important leadership trait you can have is curiosity. A Price Waterhouse Cooper study now confirms it. Here’s why curiosity is so valuable and how you can become more curious.

A nonprofit president told me how his organization went from fully funded to financial crisis in a matter of days. The organization raised several million dollars a year to support it’s programs and services. They had a well-rounded donor base of a couple of large $500,000+ donors, many medium $25,000+ donors, and thousands of small $1,500 donors.

Over recent years the fundraising team, led by the president, pursued large donors. The organization’s donor balance shifted. They successfully cultivated several new large donors, while medium donors fell off for lack of attention.

One day a controversy touched on this nonprofit and overnight they lost all but one of their large donors – half their income. “I didn’t see it coming,” the president said.

A primary job of a leader is to notice trends and prepare for the future. You have to look, listen, and then make sense of what you see and hear. A little more curiosity would have changed things for this president. 

Why Curiosity Is An Important Mindset For Leaders

There is a skillset associated with curiosity, but it requires a curious mindset. In static conditions the information you have might be just fine. In times of rapid change, however, the information you have is quickly outdated or irrelevant. Consider this:

  • If you think you know, then you won’t ask.
  • If you think things are a certain way, then you won’t notice changing conditions.
  • If you think you have all the relevant information, then you won’t look for other information.
  • If you think you have the solution, then you won’t explore other solutions.
  • If you think you’re right, then you won’t really listen to other people.

Our experience and skills can get in the way of us noticing. We think we already know! If you think you know, you won’t ask, see, or hear. That’s a dangerous leadership stance in our rapidly changing world.

How To Be More Curious

Curiosity is a skill that can be learned. Here are 5 practices to help you become more curious. It’s how you think that will allow you to be curious.

  1. Listen to learn, rather than respond. Most of us listen in order to confirm our opinions, or we listen to respond to objections. Don’t listen in order to say something, listen to learn something.
  2. Pretend you don’t know. The opposite of curiosity is knowing. If you think you know, you won’t look, listen, or test. But it’s precisely these things that allow a leader to spot trends and problems before they arrive.
  3. Hold the tension. When challenged with something that seems impossible, don’t be quick to dismiss the idea. Hold the tension. Get curious. Explore. Everything new was impossible until someone figured out it wasn’t.
  4. Don’t be the smartest person in the room. The more experience and higher position you have the more difficult this is. It’s your mindset. If you think you’re the smartest in the room, you won’t learn. However, if you decide others offer something you can learn, then you will.
  5. Think: “I wonder what else?” You see part of the picture, but not all of it. You see 3 approaches to a problem, but not all of them. It’s easy to be comforted with what you know, but its stops you from learning. Thinking, “I wonder what else?” keeps you looking, listening, and exploring.

Sure, there will be some wasted effort and discussions in the process of being curious. Sacrifice a little efficiency for the sake of exploring. Innovation and breakthrough rarely arrive in a straight line.

Curiosity will not only save you from bad things approaching, but it will allow you to notice opportunities and implement them.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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