Behavioural scientist, Francesca Gino, surveyed more than 3,000 employees in a business study and found that 70% of them encounter obstacles when asking questions at work. She argues that organisations which cultivate curiosity are better at adapting to external pressures and uncertainty in markets. Meaningful decisions are dependent on clear intent, criteria and objectives, so if team members feel unable to ask questions then results won’t be optimal.

Ensuring everyone is heard

One of the responsibilities of a good leader is to set well-informed objectives and to create an atmosphere of openness where employees are happy to ask questions. Rather than giving commands, you should guide conversation towards reaching an agreement on what success will look like. There should be a negotiation of an agreement about criteria, enabling team members to accomplish tasks on the basis of their insights and experience. This is the model of ‘Authentically Curious Leadership’ (ACL).

ACL is the practice of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. An ACL leader knows their own thoughts and learns from the thoughts and experiences of others. When the understanding of your team members gets deeper, those team members are more motivated because they feel their input is important. It is empowering for them, and they develop a greater connection to the organisation’s mission.

Overcoming major obstacles

It is the subconscious that holds many leaders back from achieving this leadership style – our established beliefs based on past experiences that tell us we know what to do, without the input of outsiders. So to achieve ACL, we need to free ourselves from our subconscious…but how?

1. Work from a blank canvas

In meetings, we hear what others say but apply it to our own model of the world. This means we only observe data that confirms what we already think. The authentically curious leader will put a blank canvas between themselves and the other, allowing the other to fill that canvas with words, emotions and meaning. Rather than asking “Don’t you think…?”, you should ask “Tell me more about…” – aim for genuine clarity and insight.

2. Expect the unexpected

Don’t make the mistake of expecting to hear certain things from others, as this inhibits your ability to consider their point of view. Train yourself to consider data even when it doesn’t support your own beliefs – this will open your mind to evaluate your own assumptions and see what others see.

3. Identify common criteria

Ask the question “How will we know a great decision when we see it?” When the group can agree on what criteria make up a great decision, each member is free to posit alternatives feeling confident that their point will be considered.

ACL enables leaders to gain valuable insights from their team, particularly those with a different mental map. This allows them to grow and develop their own knowledge-base with clarity while tracking environmental changes. These are powerful tools for planning and monitoring the environment to optimise results.