Part 4 of a 5-part series on becoming and staying a curious leader.
What exactly is the role of a leader in generating curiosity and learning?
Consider first what is within your sphere of control and responsibility. You, of course! You have control over yourself. Is there anything about you that can be enhanced or changed to communicate a desire for a more learning-oriented culture? Changing your leadership style is challenging but doable. What role does your leadership style play? It can act as a motivator or a diminisher in your organization. The more your team is motivated, the better work you will get out of them, and the better your organization will do over time.
Secondly, you have the primary responsibility of creating an atmosphere conducive to learning. If the structure or culture of an organization is antagonistic to learning (in any stance), no strategy employed will help. The way you lead is an essential component for creating “a curious culture.” Here are some ways to model the behavior “continuous learning”:
- Talk freely about what you are committing to learn and then share once you’ve mastered it.
- Publicly question others about their learning, not in a judgmental way, but in a way that communicates curiosity and interest in their growth.
- Show interest in the process. Consider reviewing projects mid-mortem, post-mortem, and at critical junctures. Feedback is vital when developing curiosity. Some employees take the position that their supervisor doesn’t care how it gets done, as long as it gets done. In creating a development stance, the process is just as important as the product.
- Finally, force yourself to stay open to learning even when work conditions make it difficult.
One of the ruts organizational leaders sometimes fall into is taking an all or nothing approach; either they have a managerial approach or a bottom-up approach, when a combination of the two is ideal.
In a managerial approach, managers are the key drivers for change. They make all the decisions, and the staff is expected to embrace it. Change may happen sooner, but it may not be internalized and may not have long term effects. It is usually at this point that leaders believe the solution is new staff members. Change occurs in learning and growing organizations, do we want turn-over each time there is a change?
Instead, we need to create an environment where team members are curious about how to solve organizational problems and develop new approaches to solving them. What are some things you can do as a leader to create this environment?
- Model curiosity
- Eliminate resistance to learning
- Create social support systems: buddy, mentoring or side-by-side work systems to provide support, challenge and give feedback
- Create work outlets that allow for quick trials of new ideas to lower risks
- Create rewards or compensation for the desired behavior. Not all rewards have to be financial. Team members can help determine what rewards will be meaningful to them.
Finally, as you are trying to implement changes, approach the entire process from a development stance. In other words, it is a learning experience leading everyone to be open to change. The first version of the initiative is where you generate some progress. Rarely do endeavors click the first time and they almost always show you have more to learn. The challenge here is for leaders to be the first ones open and unafraid of change and potentially negative feedback.