Leading with Curiosity in Challenging Moments

By Sharon Newport • November 28, 2018

We all have human reactions to things happening around us that we might not think we should show. We can find ourselves plowing through our day in order to remain “productive.” As leaders, we often find ourselves as the first and last stop on the problem-solving train, and it can be easy to push ourselves to be the best solution provider in our organizations, even when we are feeling emotionally challenged. But, are we being our best self in those moments? Is there a more effective way to manage ourselves in order to better serve?

These challenging moments are an opportunity to learn how to pause, get curious and create a new experience for you and your team.  It is important to give ourselves the room to step back when a challenge or opportunity arises rather than gritting our teeth and plowing through it.

Leadership isn’t about being the source of all solutions. Organizations possess wisdom, people with skills and experience, and people who bring their own insights. Leaders must know how to bring out the best in their organization and their team. What teams like to experience in their leaders is someone they want to follow, partner with, learn from and support.

Leading with curiosity can provide a number of key outcomes that relaxes and engages you and those around you.

Leading with curiosity can:

  • Model positive self-management
  • Stimulate reflective conversation
  • Surface underlying symptoms or concerns
  • Initiate creativity and new possibilities
  • Generate new energy and momentum
  • Focus on the “we”
  • Provide room for truth, humility, vulnerability
  • Suspend judgment
  • Lead towards solution
  • Evoke curiosity within others

In your curiosity you will need to ask questions that are broad, inclusive, strategic and fundamentally about seeking greater connection, insight and truth. This is an opportunity to step back and reframe the conversation. Just like in public speaking, there is power in the pause.

Also, to know if you’re hitting the mark, focus on authenticity. Leading with curiosity is not about evoking questions of blame or about reconfirming your own position. You must be authentically curious about the bigger picture, creating connection, and perhaps being vulnerable and heart-centered as well. What a powerful opportunity to model how to shift a difficult conversation with your team.

Leading with curiosity is an aspect of mindful leadership. It requires a personal commitment for building a new muscle memory that can provide freedom even in the midst of a challenging experience. You will need to practice leading with curiosity when you’re relaxed in order for your mind and body to remember the skill when you’re feeling stressed or challenged.

Put a note in your phone or on your monitor about practicing curiosity. Keep reminders handy until you have integrated this practice as part of your leadership toolbox. You’ll know when you have integrated this new skill when you’re feeling particularly challenged or stressed and instead of plowing through, you instinctively pause, take a deep breath, and get curious and manage yourself in such a way that those around you can experience a better outcome. You’ve lead them differently and created a new outcome. This is a transformative skill for you and those you serve.

About The Author

Sharon Newport is the director of operations at the DHI – Door Security & Safety Professionals and the vice president of operations at the Door Security & Safety Foundation. She is an ASAE Diversity Executive Leadership (DELP) Scholar and a visionary leader who is passionate about working in a mission-driven environment and being an agent for change.