Monday, October 5, 2009

Curiosity as an essential leadership trait.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. …Never lose a holy curiosity." Albert Einstein

In writing for the UTSA Student Affairs Newsletter last week about my experiences with Facebook, I began to think about the importance of curiosity in effective leadership. I realized that I had not been curious about social networking because I had made assumptions about its usefulness, or lack thereof in my life, both personal and professional. Those assumptions made it easy for me to ignore any social networking. Once I was pushed into joining Facebook, I found that I enjoyed it on a number of levels and realized that I was wrong in my assumptions.

It may not have been social networks, but I suspect most of us have something that we have ignored, failed to investigate, or even sneered at because we didn't understand it and we didn't investigate because those assumptions led to a lack of curiosity. And that has implications for our leadership work. A failure to be curious means that we aren't engaged in the world around us. It can lead us to write off someone's new idea, or decide that a new theory has no relevance to our particular area, or be bored with someone's newest enthusiasm. As a result we don't support others in trying new things or putting old things to new uses and that is a failure of leadership.

A 2007 article on a website called Lifehack,* written by Donald Latumahina lists four reasons why curiosity is important: 1. Curiosity makes your mind active instead of passive, 2. Curiosity makes your mind observant of new ideas 3. Curiosity opens up new worlds and possibilities, and 4. Curiosity brings excitement into your life.

When I read those four reasons, I begin to see curiosity as an essential element of leadership. Try it. Substitute the word leadership for curiosity in those four sentences. It transforms curiosity into an essential component of effective leadership and one that I rarely, if ever, see listed as important. So, as I said in the Student Affairs newsletter, if you ever hear yourself dismissing a new idea or technology or a new application of an old one, I hope you'll stop and be curious.

Better yet, what are you curious about? What might happen if you investigated it? It doesn't have to be obviously related to your work. Curiosity, like so many things, is a habit. And while the adage says that curiosity killed the cat, it seems to me that it's more likely that a lack of curiosity can kill your leadership.


UTSA Student Affairs Staff News

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