I recently had a global head of HR ask me, “What do you think is the most important leadership behavior?”, and my quick response was: curiosity. I think we all know the importance of curiosity when it comes to the work, the data, or the market. If we aren’t curious as leaders, we won’t continue questioning and evaluating to ensure we can course correct when needed. Without curiosity about the work, you won’t continue to learn and grow to become a better leader.
Where I think we underestimate the importance of curiosity is when it comes to understanding our people.
Without curiosity ingrained in your conversations, you can’t really know the people you work with. You have to ask what they care about and where they have interests, both inside and outside the organization. Without curiosity, you can’t know if someone is happy or struggling. You can’t know if someone is engaged in their role or has a foot out the door. And without that knowledge, you can’t support or respond with empathy or care. Without curiosity, you can’t be an inclusive leader.
In our Signature programs, we put a lot of emphasis on relating to people. If leaders are sharing things about themselves, including their doubts and vulnerabilities, it can result in “mirroring,” where the listener will feel safe and comfortable to “mirror back” with their own thoughts and uncertainties. That vulnerability is important, because creating an open and safe environment allows a deeper understanding of each other.
As I often say, I believe the three most important words in our personal lives are “I love you.” In our business world, the three most important words to me are, “Tell me more.” If someone is relaying information, a story, or something personal, lean in and really listen. Look them in the eyes, and acknowledge through your smile or headshake you are taking in what they are saying. When they pause, say, “Tell me more.”…and you know what? They will! They will because they see you care. This powerful leadership behavior – engaged listening – makes people feel valued. With a better understanding of the other person’s needs, maybe even their passions, you can respond to them individually with knowledge and care. This is how inclusive leaders show up.
Whenever you have that next conversation, try pausing and asking “tell me more.” You are likely to learn things that come from the heart.