Monthly Archives: February 2015

Can you be a great leader? – Try CURIOSITY

Welcome to my blog, where I explore leadership  characteristics. Here I draw on my own leadership experience and observations from my work as an executive coach.  I hope you tried out gratitude after reading my last blog. If you did, I am certain you are already seeing a difference in your self-awareness, your resilience levels and your energy levels. You could say I am curious about leaders and the qualities of the best leaders. But, I am curious about many more things and I want to encourage you to develop your skills of curiosity also. In addition to gratitude I think curiosity is an important and under developed skill for leaders. So, do read on, but if your short on time do have a look at this graphic that captures the key messages.


Some of you may at this point want to close my blog thinking, oh yes curiosity if only I had time for that! I am too busy running this place, dealing with business and financial strategy to take time out to be curious. You may be thinking about the other dictionary meanings of the word curious and conjure up in your mind strange, unusual peculiar, bizarre, freak or deviant. Or maybe a parent or teacher comes to mind telling you to FOCUS,as “curiosity killed the cat!” All of those views on curiosity are limited.  For starters the proverb was never originally intended to be “curiosity killed the cat”. The original form of the proverb, now little used, was “Care killed the cat” and is attributed as early as Shakespeare. In this instance, “care” was defined as “worry” or “sorrow.”  It got changed in the 18th century to “curiosity killed the cat” as feminine and feline characteristics were deemed unproductive.  We can agree that worry and stress are disablers for leaders in complex organisations. So, it’s conceivable to think worry would kill the cat also. So, if curiosity didn’t kill the cat but worry did then you might just be seeing curiosity a little more positively now. The other interesting thing about curiosity is it leads you in all sorts of different directions. Curiosity is where we have a strong desire to learn or to know something. Evidence is mounting that learning something new grows your brain functions. That’s where the concept of brain neuroplasticity comes into play. Scientists are discovering that the adult brain can still grow,change and develop and can actually be trained to improve. The flip side if you don’t keep growing your brain or its functions it will diminish. The best way to grow your brain is to learn something or do something new. When you are learning a new skill and you repeat it, or access a memory you grow your brain by making new neural connections. As a leader with all the business challenges you face every day, wouldn’t it be great if your brain was bigger, reasoning quicker and your ability to solve problems more effective.  Some of you are already curious and this blog will be a relief and reinforcement to you leaders. Practising curiosity can help you as a leader but I bet curiosity has not been top of your list as a leader maybe FOCUS has. With your education, your parents and teachers, your college, your organisations they all encouraged FOCUS. Focus on the grades, FOCUS stop day dreaming, FOCUS on getting into the best college, and be FOCUSED in the interview to get the job and boy do you need to be FOCUSED to succeed in business too. I’m not suggesting you toss out focus. Curiosity is not the opposite of focus. If practised curiosity will encourage your brain to change and grow and it can enhance and develop your focus, it will develop your self-awareness, you will think quicker as you make connections across new and sharper neural pathways and your skills and tools will grow. You will spot opportunity, new people, new contacts, and new ways to do things also. This is not magic it will require work and practise just like developing your focus required time effort and practise. Focus has developed the skills and depth of experience that got you to the top table, didn’t it? Well yes it did, but on its own it will not help you now you are there. How do you grow into the 70% of the job of a CEO that your experiences and qualifications never prepared you for? You need to develop yourself and awareness of others, develop radar for what might be, what is out there, what and could be different and what is coming over the hill. You need the ability to lead and engage your staff to follow the company journey. No business survives if it does not grow, change or take its staff with it, especially the diverse thinkers. SAID Business School in their recent CEO report described in their review of leader competencies a new type of leadership intelligence that is needed in addition to emotional and contextual intelligence. From their research the best CEOs seem to possess something they call ripple intelligence. It helps them do the job and continuously adapt and grow personally to keep succeeding as a CEO. Quoting Dr.Michael Smets, Ripple intelligence is described as: “The ability to see the interactions of business contexts like ripples moving across a pond.  It enables CEOs to envision how trends and contexts may intersect and change direction, so they can anticipate disruptions, make time to plan, and protect against being blindsided by unexpected events. Ripple intelligence also makes CEOs aware of their own impact and how it may influence contexts that might otherwise seem remote and unconnected. ” Practising curiosity is a tool that could help you develop ripple intelligence. Start small and like with gratitude do not try anything too ambitious initially. Your brain will need some training here. I know you don’t have much time and with all these years spent focusing you might just find being curious strange and a little tough. Here is a possible small exercise. Find somewhere quiet and undisturbed and set a timer on your watch or phone just for 2 minutes (it will seem like an age). Now get your mind to FOCUS on the present. Think of a small baby, how it uses curiosity to develop its focus by staring at its hand. Just staring at it, and the curiosity and the focus sit together. The curiosity over time when practised develops in the baby the focusing of the optic nerve. So, your curiosity will develop your skills, remember that as it feels strange, your Brain is a muscle and practise will start to stretch it. So now like a baby just look at your hands really look at your hands. Notice their size, their colour, your nails are they short or long? Are they in need of a manicure? Are they grubby from gardening, or are your fingers stained with ink from the pen that leaks? Maybe your skin is a bit dry, is the skin ageing, are the veins noticeable? Do your hands have a light tan from a week skiing maybe? What story do your hands tell you? Time up….just leave it there for today. Tomorrow I want you to notice the hands of others. Glance at them when you shake hands, look at your partners hands, look at your kids hands, let your eyes settle for a moment on someone’s hands on the train or the bus. Look around your board table to see colleagues. What do their hands tell you? Anything just think anything?  Ignore the thoughts in your head telling you this is rubbish and get back to the day job. Just be curious have a look and a little reflection. Keep practising this for a week and see what and who you start to notice, you might want to jot those thoughts down to come back to later. Please ignore the negative thoughts. You will not get immediate external results as this is inside work. You are growing your brain and it takes a little time and practise.    If you want inspiration think of a creative who solve problems, who bring great ideas into play and determine to remain curious yourself.  Read about business breakthroughs like Virgin Airlines and Richard Branson. He went on a delayed and disrupted flight and became curious about how to fix it. He didn’t run airlines, he had no experience in that field but he became curious, questioned and now we have Virgin Airlines. If you found this exercise intriguing you will probably want to move on to something more taxing. Just remember this isn’t a competition.We are building new connections and sharpening those neural pathways so you can move onto some bigger stuff now. You could:

  •  Take something apart, look inside see what’s there and how it all fits together and then try and put it back together – make sure it’s belongs to you first or family and friends may not thank you.
  • Buy a magazine on a subject you do not know about and take time to read it.
  • Take an elder out to lunch (a neighbour maybe) ask about their life story.
  • Ask someone different to you what the latest movie was they saw, go see it.
  • Take up a hobby, not one you’ve done before though, or, learn a language or try painting.
  • Go to a different restaurant, pub or holiday spot.
  • Join a group or volunteer.

Keep alert and after each activity make a note of what you saw, felt, did, and what is happening? What am I seeing? Who am I meeting? what am I learning? what is different here? Share these reflections with your leadership coach as they can help you process, reflect and help you grow that brain function a bit more. I promise that practising curiosity will help you as a business leader as it will unlock different perspectives. You will start to solve problems because you are open to new ideas, experiences and finding solutions in the less obvious places. You might find improvements in your energy, motivation, business innovation and taking people with you, especially those different to you, in age, gender and race and background. You might just hear a great idea in your organisation and be curious to find out more. Most of all when your organisation hits uncertainty and choppy seas you will remain positive. You have not been here before, but you know you can find a way through because your brain has learnt and is still learning to make new connections and think more. the unusual is not scary its is a new opportunity to learn and to grow. So go on, have a little try at being curious and remember what Albert Einstein said; Never lose a holy curiosity. Contact me for executive coaching, facilitation and keynote speeches at