Over the course of the summer, we’ve examined three of the four behaviors that differentiate a functional manager from a true leader. Thus far, we’ve explored:
Today, we’ll dive into the final behavior: Posing Curious Questions.
Of all the behaviors, this fourth behavior may be the most linked to increasing resilience. Why? Because when we pose curious questions we expose ourselves to new information, which helps us find new solutions.
While I believe with absolute sincerity that each of these four behaviors is essential for next-level leadership, I would say if you are only open to implementing one that it should be this fourth behavior.
Let me tell you why.
As the world around us moves, grows, and changes with increasing rapidity, the need for resilient leaders increases as well. There will always be a place for servant leaders and visionary leaders, but there is now a fundamental need for resilient leaders.
With the near-constant volatility we experience from globalization, technological advances, terrorism, corruption, political upheaval, and generational interactions you would be hard-pressed to find an organization that was not repeatedly facing some form of adversity.
This is why resilient leadership is more important than ever. Simply put, resilience is the ability to bounce back after experiencing adversity. I define a resilient leader as someone who is able to bring themselves, their team, and their organization through difficult times and continue to thrive while doing so. That doesn’t mean that difficult times become easy, but it does mean that they become meaningful, productive, high-growth experiences.
In my work, I have found there are several traits and skills resilient leaders share. One of those is the habit of continually posing curious questions.
I remember when my grandson was little he used to ask me tons of questions. He wanted to know what a rainbow was. He wanted to know why he could see the veins on the backs of my hands. He wanted to know how big a dinosaur was. He wanted to know everything.
As he grew up, he asked fewer and fewer questions, until today in his teenage years, he asks no questions. He, like almost all of us, hit an age where curiosity becomes synonymous with weakness, ignorance, and stupidity.
Sadly, many of us (leaders especially) have been culturally conditioned to confuse curiosity with ignorance, and ignorance with stupidity. We have also been conditioned to think that power and authority are dependent on “rightness” and having all the answers.
Yet consider this: without a curious, questioning mind, you use the same knowledge and information over and over again—whether it brings the right answer or not, whether it calls forth an unexpected solution or not.
Without risking ignorance to gain fresh knowledge, which we get from posing curious questions, we condemn ourselves to coming to the same conclusions over and over again.
Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Yet we all fall into this trap.
I long for the day when my grandson’s curiosity is once again aroused, seeing his questions as an expression of interest. It’s so easy and rewarding to be curious. It’s as easy as acting on a passing thought. It costs nothing but a moment in time. The benefit of taking that risk, of posing a curious question, is more valuable than any discomfort or embarrassment that he might feel revealing a gap in his knowledge.
Because the benefit of posing curious questions is resilience.
The Fourth Behavior: Posing Curious Questions
The behavior of posing curious questions is about allowing yourself to cultivate curiosity about everything and anything, and bringing that curiosity into your daily interactions. This means challenging yourself to ask at least one more follow-up question than you may be comfortable doing. Practice it with your spouse, practice it with your team, practice in line at the grocery store. In as many interactions as you can, push yourself to ask just one more question. And then truly listen to the answer.
Here's a few ways you can do that:
Ask questions to build relationships. I have found posing curious questions to be a powerful strategy not only to infusing my daily life with unexpected, fresh knowledge but also to deepening my relationships. Nothing communicates interest, investment, and presence in a moment with someone like asking them a question and another and even another. Whether it is what happened during their day, a project they are working on, or how they’re feeling, they will appreciate you wanting to learn more from (or about) them.
Ask questions to get under the surface of things. Sometimes posing curious questions may mean posing difficult questions. To go deeper or satisfy your curiosity on something, you may need to ask someone to explain how they feel, describe a perspective contradictory to your own, or account for a mistake they made. For resilient leaders, posing these kinds of questions is necessary. It demonstrates the questions open up new understanding and knowledge. Teams learn that questions are powerful means to better understanding. They also learn simply how to ask those questions.
Ask questions to model the value of curiosity. Asking questions begins to erode the impression that questions reflect ignorance. Teams begin to see that questions can also reflect interest. Every question models what it looks like to ask questions and what it looks like to express interest through questions. In this way, you are able to move yourself, your team, and your organization through difficult times. If you can keep asking questions, possibilities begin to open up that help you get through difficult times, better understand unexpected challenges, and get around what others might call impossible blocks.
Ask questions to teach the skill of asking questions. Moreover, every question models for your team what it looks like to ask questions and what it looks like to express interest through your questions. It begins to erode the impression that questions reflect only ignorance. This way, you are able to move yourself, your team, and your organization through those difficult times. Don’t shy away from questions!
If you’re having a hard time finding an appropriate follow-up question, a great way to pose curious questions is to ask people where they get their information. If someone is sharing an interesting anecdote from the current news cycle, ask them what paper they read so you can read it as well. If someone is sharing their expertise in an area, ask them what books they’d recommend you read on the topic to learn more.
The bottom line? Ask questions. Take a page from the children in your life, and ask questions as often as possible. Then reflect on all you learned from this simple yet powerful behavior. Be sure to tell me about how this behavior is working for you here or on Twitter: @madelynblair!
If you enjoyed this series on the four behaviors of next-level leadership, I invite you to sign up for Resilience Brilliance, a free weekly email that shares a short thought and action to develop your resilient leadership.