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Curiosity Killed The Cat: It Might Actually Save Your Toxic Workplace

curiosity emotional intelligence people purpose teams Feb 21, 2022

How Strong is Your Desire for Learning?

A few years ago, I wrote down some thoughts about curiosity. I felt it was an excellent time to revisit what I was thinking then and re-evaluate the importance of curiosity because curiosity will play a critical role as we move forward. Now is the time to reset healthy self-confidence after negotiating unprecedented levels of uncertainty. Now is not the time to dampen down our curiosity.

I am energized when I meet curious people. People fascinate me. Ideas intrigue me. Curiosity helps me feel fully alive. When someone asks me a question, it conveys a sense of value. If that sounds a little selfish at first, I suppose it is. It feels good to receive a message from another human being that my thoughts matter. Yet, when I dig a little deeper into why I find curiosity energizing, I find it's because curious people, past and present, inspire me. The questioners in life epitomize who I want to become—a learner.

I want to be a curious person.

I do not want to become stagnant.

I do not want to stop learning.

Do you have a strong desire to learn? It's hard to imagine answering "No." After all, you're reading this. I get to connect with leaders and learners every day in my vocation. My sense of purpose fuels my desire to encourage positive transformation. I serve a broad diversity of leaders. They stoke my curiosity. I learn. They learn. And I love it.

Leaders are supposed to say "Yes" to learning. Chances are you're reading this post in isolation. You're alone with your thoughts, and that begs a second question. Are you serious about learning? Are you curious enough to lower your defensiveness? Are you curious? I believe genuine curiosity never thrives in a vacuum. Echo chambers do not promote learning. Curiosity fuels healthy respect and appreciation for diversity. Connection brings another level of understanding—especially when we connect with people who think differently.

Adam Grant warns, "We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process."

We get stuck in what we think we know. Curiosity can help us get unstuck and get out of our way, especially as we emerge from the Pandemic. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic warns leaders that relying on what we already know will be far too easy. Pressing the need for curiosity in 2021, Chamorro-Premuzic notes, "Even the smartest leaders can't rely on their intelligence because the vast majority of problems they need to solve today are not well defined and require a great amount of learning."

The past year's events have provided us with a golden opportunity to capture a few lessons learned. Don't stop with what you have learned. Stretch toward what you can understand. How have your assumptions about leadership and learning been challenged this year? Don't gloss over the question. Refresh your curiosity. How have you been challenged? How's your appetite for finding new ways to view yourself and the world around you?

Is Curiosity Front of Mind

I believe incurable curiosity is a defining characteristic of 21st Century Leadership. Here's a quick check. The last time you were asked to identify the most salient qualities of your leadership, did curiosity make your top five? Perhaps you have been posed the proverbial question, "Tell me about yourself." I suspect you didn't announce, "I'm curious!" Next time you're asked, give it a try. It's a decisive answer.  



According to Merriam-Webster, curiosity is defined as "the desire to learn or know more about something or someone." By definition, there seems to be a strong connection between learning, leading, and curiosity. If you are serious about learning, you should be trending toward more curiosity.

Don't overlook the "or someone" at the end of the definition. Learning more about something is the easy way out of leadership. Read and study. Analyze. These activities connect well with high achievers and strategic execution. The past few months have given us many unique opportunities to extend beyond learning about something and lean into what it means to learn more about "someone." Perhaps limited face-to-face interaction has stirred empathy and a greater appreciation for the human side of leadership. I hope so.

Your most significant curiosity stems from an appetite for valuing others, embracing and appreciating diversity, and increasing your capacity to listen deeply.

How often does your internal conversation begin with, "I know…." I don't know your age. It may feel like the odds are stacked against you as your age increases. After all, it's hard to compete with a child's curiosity. It's not just a matter of age. The so-called thick skin of experience can cause you to rest on your assumptions, govern your curiosity, and construct walls that hinder learning.

Leadership is painful. Your curiosity can take a beating. The challenges are substantial.

Exercising leadership is an expression of your aliveness. But your life juice – your creativity and daring, your curiosity and eagerness to question, your compassion and love for people – can seep away daily.

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line

So, is the wonder of a child destined to devolve into the cynicism and arrogance of an adult? No. You can reverse the trend. First, take a deep breath, get some honest feedback from someone you trust, and identify the warning signs that your curiosity needs a refresh:

  • Am I Quick to Speak and Slow to Listen?
  • Do I Exhibit Heightened Levels of Frustration?
  • Am I Experiencing Mental Fatigue?
  • Do I Sense a Loss of Purpose?
  • Am I Experiencing a Lack of Fulfillment?
  • Do I Feel Diminished Joy?

Perhaps curiosity can help. After taking a moment to look in the mirror, rediscover the joy of interest. Think about the relative ease with which children exhibit curiosity. Choose one of the following behaviors and practice this week:

Practice Honesty. Do not hide your lack of knowledge or expertise. Instead of pretending to know, learn to say, "I don't know." Seize opportunities to learn something new.

Admit Your Mistakes. Adam Grant, Author of Think Again, reminds us that saying you're wrong isn't an admission of incompetence. It's a sign that you have the humility to recognize your mistakes and possess the integrity to learn from them.

Increase Inquiry. Ask more questions. Aim your inquiry toward people you don't know, those you don't typically engage with. Active minds pose thoughtful questions.

Keep a Journal. Take time to write a few notes at the end of each day. Begin your journal with "What I learned from (this person) today…." Your daily journal is more than a tool of reflection. It is a catalyst for more learning.

Take a Bold Step. Engage in an intentional process with a group of leaders that will challenge you to break free from your comfort zone and re-energize your curiosity.

For opportunities to take a bold step, visit InitiativeOne. We have a proven Leadership Transformation Process. We look at leadership differently. Because a meaningful, sustainable change in your organization isn't about simply learning new skills. It's about significant change within your own heart and mind. We help leaders recharge curiosity, break out of their comfort zone, and find a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. That's how you'll eliminate the barriers, hidden agendas, and below-the-surface drama that's holding you and your team back.

Photo by Bing Han on Unsplash

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