Curiosity has long been deemed a leadership skill. In fact, at Carroll Consulting, curiosity is a key attribute we seek to uncover through our CDI-PRO leadership assessment process. But more and more, team leaders and managers are looking beyond just their leadership team and are searching for candidates for a wide range of roles who also demonstrate inquisitiveness and curiosity. They hope to employ people who ask great questions, admit when there are things they don’t know, demonstrate an eagerness to find the answers, and while more than willing to complete their work, are not afraid to ask “why?” and “why not like this?”.

When it comes to being curious, interestingly, it is not the answer that is key to problem solving. There are plenty of answers out there that are easier than ever to find. They key is possessing the curiosity trait itself, the drive to finding the question that will stimulate the thought, creativity or unique solution.

Develop, empower and show trust

Encouraging curiosity is recognised more and more as a way to engage and help staff develop. A well thought-out and well-timed question asked in the right way can have much more impact than telling people what to do. Some say it is the difference between management and leadership. Perhaps there are too many people telling us what to do! I recently experienced this myself. While the intention for this action came from a supportive and guiding place, it did become a bit draining. It remined me of one of my flaws! Having a quick mind, with others struggling, it is easy to offer a solution, or worse the solution that you think is best. But a well-placed question can lead others on their own learning journey, they will gain far more than anyone telling them the answer and be more engaged in making ‘their’ solution a success.

I recall working with a CEO who, when asked a question, he would throw it back to the person who had asked it. “What does your gut tell you?” was one of his favourites. This was an excellent development tool which would ultimately lead to a discussion about different scenarios and likely outcomes, identifying the best course of action. This also helped him build relationships with his team, demonstrating his trust by allowing people to make a call before deferring to him.

Curiosity can help improve your bottom line

In a recent Human Resources Director article, Capitalising on curiosity, how inquisitiveness impacts your bottom line, Dr Amantha Imber, organisational psychologist and founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium discusses how curiosity can be tapped into in the workplace. “Firstly, leaders can encourage employees to challenge the status quo and ask, ‘What if there was a different or better way of doing things?’, Secondly, if applicable, encourage employees to get more customer-focused by going out and asking questions of their customers – observing their current processes with critical thought will unearth opportunities to improve the customer experience. Finally, challenge your employees to run experiments and test their ideas as opposed to getting attached to the status quo.”

Create a culture that enables curiosity

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is often quoted as saying, “We run this company on questions, not on answers”, which effectively sums up the nature of an innovative and forward-thinking business. If this is the culture you strive to possess, encouraging questions from your team members might be the best place to start. But as Dr Imber explains, you need to allow employees the room to question and explore. “Resourcing is a big one. If people don’t have the time to be curious, ask questions, and think creatively, then curiosity simply will not materialise. There also needs to be support from leaders; they need to be good role models when it comes to curiosity and be seen as people who are always asking questions and looking for new and better ways of doing things. If these factors are present, then curiosity will thrive.”

Identifying curiosity

In an interview situation, you can understand someone’s curiosity by asking such questions as:

  • How did you learn a new skill?
  • How did you understand how something worked?
  • How did you find a new way of doing something?
  • How did you understand how to work with a colleague or manager?

Seek out situations where the person may have used curiosity to find a solution or where they sought to improve themselves.

We are raised to respond to tasks as they arise and complete them for satisfaction or praise. “Set the table,” “Put away your things,”. It is very easy to fall back into this task-oriented pattern in the workplace. But having a culture that encourages team members to ask the questions – “Why do we do it this way?” “Is there a more efficient way?” “Are we missing out on opportunities here?” will move your business forward and keep up with the competition. It’s no wonder employers are looking for these curious people during the recruitment process, and why it is so exciting to find a candidate who matches this brief.

Happy recruiting!

Ian Hamilton

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels