The Extraordinary Leadership Trait (That We All Have In Us)

Photo credit: Charles Forerunner

If you’re reading this, you have an extraordinary leadership trait.

Curiosity.

The very engine that keeps you reading to find out more can be a tremendous asset for a leader—even if you don’t consider yourself one.

Here’s why curiosity is such a powerful trait.

Curiosity inhibits defensiveness and ego.

Through negotiating more than $500 million in contracts and building lasting relationships, I learned this unique power of curiosity. When the other side expresses resistance or hostility, and you respond with curiosity and openness, you move away from personalities and toward understanding the problem. (There’s more about this in my book, A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done.) So the next time you feel the urge to react with defensiveness, make the conscious shift to curiosity. You’ll be amazed how the lines of communication are strengthened.

Curiosity triggers better brain chemistry.

A study published in the October 2014 issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information. (Learn more from this NPR segment.) When we are curious, our brain releases dopamine, which is a reward also associated with receiving money or candy. Curiosity also triggers a brain circuit where memories are made.

Curiosity broadens perspective, and a broad creative intelligence reveals more solutions.

Curiosity drives creativity and harnesses the power of multiple ideas and solutions. This starts with your curiosity as a leader, as a role model for your team. Creative leaders, as defined by a recent column in Fast Company, “are ordinary people who decide at one point or another to do extraordinary things. That doesn’t just take courage, it demands creativity, the kind you need to actively nurture and practice… To become a leader, you need to develop similar qualities to an artist—to tap into your creative intelligence in order to keep ahead of the crowd, stay nimble, and inspire those around you to push themselves, too.” By modeling curiosity as a leader, you’ll be able to help shape a collaborative, creative, solutions-oriented culture.

Curiosity encourages a culture of feedback and engagement.

Within this positive environment, growth is fostered. As author Brene Brown (“Rising Strong”) points out, “The most transformative and resilient leaders … have three things in common: First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception. And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability.” Becoming a more curious leader fosters the connection that is key to business success.

In my decades of negotiating with and learning from leaders in professional sports, curiosity returns again and again as a critical building block for respect and relationships. Curiosity challenges our conventional wisdom and points us to more and better solutions.

Your Game Changer Takeaway

Curiosity-based leadership can transform your personal development and those you manage, and push away barriers to unique perspectives and solutions. Curiosity is a magnet for valuable new information and a battering ram for self-imposed limits.

My two most powerful words for sharpening curiosity as a leader: “What if?”

How has curiosity made you a more effective leader? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world. Sign up here to receive our monthly newsletter.