The leader’s secret weapon
Peter Drucker famously said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”
Your secret weapon is curiosity.
- Curious leaders stop having all the answers and start having all the questions. The problem with answers is they don’t teach you anything. In some ways, answers end thinking.
- Curious leaders reflect healthy confidence. Weak leaders don’t ask question for fear of looking weak. If you want to look strong while asking a question say, “Tell me more.”
- Curiosity energizes and ennobles. Thoreau said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” Listening lifts people.
- Curious leaders demonstrate interest in others and by so doing they instill hope. Napoleon explained that, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
- Curious leaders express knowledge. Good questions demonstrate you understand the situation and the challenges.
- Bonus Tip: Ask the hard questions.
- Too many questions without answers reflect weakness.
- Some questions put others on the hot-seat. Allow prep time for technical questions.
- Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. However, you probably should want to know.
- Ask “what” questions first and “how” questions later. Leaders are concerned about what is currently being done or not done and what should be done tomorrow.
- Don’t answer your own question. That’s just rude.
“A leader has to show curiosity. He has to listen to people outside of the “Yes, sir” crowd in his inner circle. The inability to listen is a form of arrogance. It means either you think you already know it all, or you just don’t care.” (Where have all the Leaders Gone, by Lee Iacocca).
What blocks curiosity in leaders?
What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of being a curious leader?
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An real good interesting post. Leaders block their curiosity with 2 damaging forces built inside them. One being ‘ego’ and other being ‘I know everything’ attitude. The moment a leader feels that he is superior and authoritarian as compared to others he starts disrespecting people around him and will not respect their suggestions and/or view points.
The simple answer to successful leadership is to encourage people to freely express and contribute new ideas. Asking too many questions often is also undesirable since it brings irritation and self-destroying. It has to be natural and one needs to respect individuals and their level of participation in broad-based activities.
Listening is a skill that one may not attribute to being a good leader but it is essential. Listening and absorbing the facts and assumptions of the situation can lead to very probing questions, I agree.
I feel like I made a quantum leap along my leadership journey when I stopped taking myself so seriously and started being more human. One can be more human by listening.
Dear Reiter [Matt],
I fully agree with your crisp comments on importance of listening and practicing as a human being. It’s really difficult and one needs to respect others and treat them as fellow beings who can support you in your chasing common goals beneficial to all.
Good morning Dan. Now here is a post with a different twist. Curiosity and Leadership is an interesting duo. I certainly agree with all of your tips and your warnings and yes “Leaders deal in hope.” Napoleon has always been in my top 10 when it comes to brief but profound comments. What blocks curiosity in a leader? I would say fear and lack of self confidence. Fear of not appearing expert, knowledgeable, and trained. Insecurity that asking questions will weaken perception;However you run the risk of coming across as patronizing if the questions don’t have serious content behind them; asking for the sake of asking is dangerous and can be easily detected by most folks. A healthy curiosity and drive will trump experience in most circumstances and encourage others to take the leap and ask as you put it the hard questions. Sincerity needs to be part of the equation when asking questions and as said by your Thoreau this will foster complimentary feelings. Lastly again as you alluded to in your comments NEVER ask rhetorical questions. No one learns anything and they can be very offensive. Asking when you know the answers puts one on a slippery slope since sometimes we are surprised by responses that show us that we really didn’t know. Trust and credibility have to be factored in along with as mentioned earlier sincerity. Having all of these in play will mitigate asking the wrong questions and liberate everyone to feel safe to always ask virtually anything that can spark a dialogue where everyone learns. thanks for the post and have a great day. Al
Great riff to consider Al!
Without healthy curiosity or that sincere inquiry, it becomes clear that the leader is really just blowing smoke.
And when leaders are truly interested in ‘learning’ that is a clear message and benefit to the organization.
What blocks curiousity? Oh, easy to be curious when you are the grad student. When you are a leader, pushing a direction, over opposition, it is tempting not to want to hear why people don’t want to go with you. Especially difficult to hear in front of others who might be swayed. Even more difficult to hear the more opposition there is. Problem.
A very interesting post. I particularly learned two things. Ask hard quesitons and do not answer your own question. I am curious to know that how asking hard question and not answering are related. It seems one should know the answer before asking the question and should avoid answering oftenly.
Arrogance and inability to listen kill curiosity. Arrogance also creates a lot of preconceived thoughts. I know more than others is the major bottleneck that enhances arrogance and diminshes curiosity. But the major question is how to tackle arrogance? Can humbleness or knowledge overcome it ? Can convincing overcomes arrogance ? I think the root cause of arrogance is strong support system, less or no liability, no accountability and insensitivity. And the best way to dilute it to expose people to odd circumstances they have never been exposed to. Leave them for sometime where they need to do something. This may sensitize them and minimise the arrogance. It is not possible in short run but possible in long run.
Inertia, ignorance and insensitivity block curiosity in leaders. Being curious about relevant subject is advantageous and otherwise disadvantageous.
Great commentary Dan. Often, the higher up a leader gets, the broader their responsibilitis become. Asking questions in a curious and respectful manner helps the leader stay in touch with the team…and the business. Otherwise you may get too removed from what you want to know, need to know, or aught to know.
Dan, I think you put it quite eloquently. My wife said it quite simply to me: ‘You don’t know when to stop talking’. 🙂
I took it to heart and that changed all my results for the better.
I listened to YOU, Dan and got results. One of my staff treated me and some other staff to an appreciation luncheon and gave out cards of appreciation. Mine read,’thank you for listening FIRST’
Ah, the joy I felt when I read that. I know how good it feels to be validated and I felt good that I’d done it for someone else. I am intentional about being that ear to my staff and it paid off.
Thanks for sharing a wonderful story. I wish you continued success. Best, Dan
A few thoughts come to mind when it comes to blocks. A lack of curiosity demonstrates a lack of willingness to learn and continue to grow. After all, curiosity exposes us to ideas and information outside our current framework. Curiosity is the natural state of learning.
However, another thought that comes to mind as a block is frankly burnout, which by extension reflects a lack of delegation. If you’re not interested in listening or asking questions because you’re too stressed and tired, um… you need to do something about that. Maybe you’re spreading yourself too thin. And it’s certainly a recipe for sapping the enjoyment out of anything.
I recognize this potential as a parent too. Something’s wrong when I have trouble listening or sharing my children’s passions and enthusiasm because I’m too tired or worried or my day is too scheduled to allow time for them. Means I’m not taking care of myself so I can be there to serve and be a good example. Sometimes, that means it’s time to delegate or ask for help, or flat out say no. I have to watch this every time I get asked to volunteer more at their school. Everyone loves for me to be in charge of something. But I’m accomplishing the opposite of my goals if I cheat my kids for the sake of their school.
In that light, being a good leader, who can effectively and consistently use a tool like curiosity, involves taking care of yourself and your “family” first. Listening to everyone else but your team, seems a little out of balance. People look for answers outside of themselves when all too often answers are right here at home, within our most intimate circles. Sure, listen to the experts, but don’t forget to come back and listen at home too.
Additionally – leaders have to play at teamwork just like everyone else. That means interaction – not just talking at people. Sometimes leaders forget that.
This post made me think immediately of my kids and the experiences they are having in sixth and ninth grades, respectively. My 11 year old son, especially, is very curious about the world around him, and this curiosity clashes face first with all of the “learning standards” and “rubrics” and a host of other metrics related to how the schools will be “graded” and “financially rewarded.” I know that schools and educational systems need a structure and need ways to measure progress, but I don’t think much of this nurtures curiosity. And a kid who has had the curiosity snuffed out of him/her will potentially be a one-dimensional employee when they could have been so much more.
As a newcomer to this site, I am inspired daily by Dan’s posts as well as the contributions of others.
This topic really spoke to me. As I begin my consulting career, these tips will come in very handy. During an initial meeting with a potential client, it is easy to talk too much and listen too little. Encouraging others to speak by asking good questions, and the actually LISTENING to the answers opens up communication in a fundamental and trusting way. “Tell me more…..”
Having been tooling around the LF community for a little while, keep clicking on links, there is a wealth of knowledge to be mined here. The dailies keep me thinking and going back to older links serve as great ‘ticklers’ of what I want to become.
I did some digging and I believe your first comment on LF was 3/31/10. I’m thankful for your participation!
Me bloggah es su bloggah!
Along with Doc I send my welcome to you, with hopes you’ll find both the content and the conversation helpful.
I hope you’ll join the conversation on a regular basis.
Yep. And well thought out ideas, so thanks for sharing with us.
I use a couple of quotes around this:
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world”
“It is dangerous to Know The Answer – that’s “The” as in “Duh.”
The other part of this is that by not asking questions, you often wind up “Yelling and Telling” and that is not a good idea in general. I set people up at the end of some of my presentations with the idea that, “The next slide will be one of the most critical ones for leadership and organizational development and they might want to write down these six key tips.” I pause as they scramble for paper and pen. Then I show them a slide that says, “ASK” in bold print, written 6 times on the slide.
They laugh, but it is true.
“Nobody ever washes a rental car,” so it we do not involve and engage them in the improvement initiative, how can we expect improvement? Asking questions is a key for improvement.
Thanks for sharing about curiosity. I’m a curious leader but sometimes I’m too curious which I think is a disadvantage. A healthy balance of curiosity and questions are the advantage, and too much of either or both can be a disadvantage. Those are my thoughts.
Hi, Becky. I think I know what you mean. In my own situation, I worry about bombarding people with too many questions but I find that there are always additional angles I want to explore. Another facet of it is that there just aren’t the resources to go down every path but I have a hard time knowing which ones to leave unquestioned.
I hear you on this one. Thanks for brining the other side of curiosity to the table.
Just stumbled upon this post and found it very insightful. I believe the curiosity factor is right on in determining how a leader can be successful, by asking questions as a opposed to always providing answers (which may or may not be correct).
I would add that one key point to think about when you’re asking questions as a leader is to get into the mind of the person you’re questioning. What I mean by this is that you can ask many poignant, clear and thought-provoking questions, but they need to resonate with the way the respondent sees the situation. In our work, we look at brain research to identify strengths and challenges and communication tendencies. If for example, a leader is only asking Conceptual, right-brained questions to someone with a preference in Left-brain thinking…they could potentially get frustrated and not end up with the kinds of answers they want or need. If though, they can learn to structure questioning to appeal to the respondent’s preferences, it can be that much more productive.
Different form of leadership has diffrent kinds of weapon to tackle problems and find solution , and It comes from his qualification, real time education and experiance his ability to accept the fact on the face of it .
In my opinion the secret weapon is nothing but to tackle the problem and ability to sort it out , A leader has different approach to a challange and accept it . A leader is always curious to learn and unlearn from his mistakes and that is his forte and streangth and over aperiod of time it become his secret weapons which some times they are also not aware .
With my own experiance in the service industry I strongly believe over a period of time you learn how to tackle the clientle and customers and that becomes your strength /weapon . You develop a mastery over the customer satisfaction and become expert in resolving the problems on the spot which you may not by a formal education .
I think the leaders secret weapon is nothing but his ability to know himself.
Well said. Nothing can substitute experience. And you have substantial experience it seems. Education is one element that teaches leadership but the real leadership comes from multicultural exposure and multifunctional experience. So, a leader is a person who can influence people to achieve organisational goal and to pursue thier goal simultaneously.
Great post Dan. Thanks. I think the generally accepted “idea” of a leader being a person who directs, guides or even inspires others is what creates the mental burden and barrier to curiosity.
Instead, leaders should probably view themselves as applied behavioral scientists; looking to acquire knowledge and test hypotheses to improve group cohesion, happiness and performance.
What should I do as a leader when my subordinate telling about their problem but they are just making some excuses to cover up their faults (such as: didn’t do tasks as I ask them). Sorry if there was a similar question in these former comments. Thanks so much.
One of the challenges of leadership is holding people accountable. I have a couple suggestions but I don’t know your people.
Make sure everyone understands, agrees with, and has the resources to achieve the desired results.
Second, if necessary, make sure everyone understands the negative consequences if results aren’t achieved.
Third, follow through.
A better option is a culture of excellence but it may take some time to get there. People feel better about themselves when they achieve.
In addition, expecting people to perform is actually an act of confidence in them.
I know I’ve simplified things….just some thoughts.