When we think of leaders, we might be tempted to think of courageous and heroic figures. Ones who led from the front, who were couragious, and risk takers. Today, leading with courage and curiosity is something different to what we know from our childhood. The leader is the person at the vanguard of the army, leading the charge and taking the brunt of any enemy attacks. That’s what we saw when we were children and what is portrayed through comic books and films after all!
Of course, this is not the reality for most of us. Most people have a leadership role in the community, or as managers, supervisors or even as parents, where there is very little gunfire or charging.
Self-awareness is the cornerstone of leadership. It allows us to see where we are currently and where we need to go. It also allows us to reflect on feedback and decide how we wish to react to it. Do we want to behave below the line, blaming, shaming and denying any wrong doing, or do we wish to behave above the line, where we take responsibility, be curious, and take action.
“Below the line” behaviours require us to be more mindful, and self-aware, when we are able to recognise them as just that – behaviours, and we can then consciously move to more constructive behaviours above the line.
Leading through curiosity
Curiosity allows you to create wisdom. The absence of knowing is not wisdom in any way. Knowing what we don’t know is the precursor to wisdom. Generating wisdom requires fully integrating your knowledge into a cohesive & coherent framework.
Be curious enough to listen to ideas that make you feel things – not just the ones that reinforce your existing worldview. Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable, if it can expand your filter bubble by expanding your knowledge. Lead with courage and curiosity.
Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist, and an expert on opening other people’s minds–and our own. In his book, Think Again he reveals that we don’t have to believe everything we think or internalise everything we feel. He has the line in it “If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”
It’s an invitation to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility, humility, and curiosity over foolish consistency. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.
Developing curiosity in your leadership
Leading Through Action
The best leaders are action-takers. When we lead through action, we set a positive example for our team and inspire them to similarly take action. In this way, we avoid one of the worst traits that any leader can possess: hypocrisy.
Action can take many shapes, it is not always a ”Go, Go, Go” mentality. Action can be where we show that we are learning from feedback. By showing we make mistakes, stop and reflect, and that we become curious to doing it in different ways helps the team to see that you are real and worth following.
Leading through taking part as well.
Nobody likes being asked to do things because they feel that their superior is simply unwilling or even afraid to do it themselves. You are in charge and with that comes responsibility. Simply giving the worst jobs to your team and not taking part in them yourself is an abuse of your power. There are few things that will inspire dissent in your ranks as quickly as being seen to be hypocritical.
Leading through Decisiveness
Leading through action also means being decisive. It means being able to quickly make a decision and be willing to commit to that action. Many lesser leaders make the mistake of deferring or avoiding decision-making. Their fear is that they’ll make the wrong decision and thus lose the respect of their staff. Be willing to recognise that maybe it wasn’t the best move, yet know that you made a move, and that was right. At that point you have a choice of how you respond. It’s inspiring to see someone who makes quick decisions and doesn’t doubt themselves. Decisiveness also builds confidence in your team members.
Indecision creates dissention
Being indecisive is worse than making an unwise or incorrect decision. Being indecisive makes you seem weak. And while taking action can result in a negative outcome, delaying a decision will only ever have negative consequences.
Leading through Responsibility
A leader who is willing to accept the responsibility that comes with the role of being a leader, has many followers. As a responsible leader you are responsible to take action, to see the results, to have curiosity, to seek feedback and to move forward. Being a leader doesn’t mean telling others what to do and it certainly doesn’t mean getting to take all the credit.
Being a leader means taking responsibility for the team. It means protecting them, so they can do their best work. It means making decisions and being willing to deal with the consequences. It’s only when we don’t want to look bad that we avoid making decisions… and that is ultimately a mark of cowardice.
Leading through Stoicism
When you lead with courage and curiosity it means you take your lumps when things do go sour. If you make a mistake, it’s important to not only own up to it, but also stay calm and collected. Listen to feedback from your own superiors, your clients, industry and make changes. Likewise, it’s crucial to remain calm in a crisis. That means setting a good example when things seem to be going wrong for the team. Prevent your team from going into a panic. Stoicism allows you to keep going, on and on. Stay calm and you’ll be able to address the issue in the best possible way.
How to Be the Hero They Need
Where does all this courage, curiosity and stoicism come from? How can you acquire it if you don’t possess it naturally?
Does it mean trying to act tough?
Not at all.
Being a truly great leader comes from having the right priorities. You have to try new things in order to learn. It means forgetting yourself and, instead, focussing on the goals of your organisation and the happiness and comfort of your team. Be guided by curiosity rather than by conviction while caring more about getting it right rather than being right. When you do that, it’s easy to be a courageous leader.
Adam Grant has a podcast that you might want to check out here.