Jeremy Nulik and I were recently asked to facilitate a workshop on Emotional Intelligence and Leadership to the current class of Vision Leadership St. Charles County. Nulik and I make a precocious pairing. I am charmingly pragmatic. Nulik is the sublime futurist. After many many conversations, phone calls, brainstorming, a viewing of the Mr. Rogers documentary, an actual meeting to plan, we came to this agreement.
What is needed not just in leadership in the workplace but indeed,
our humanity was a return to an innocent curiosity about each other.
Nulik repeatedly used the word “elixir” to describe what we could share to grow emotional intelligence, yes, but moreover, it would be the antidote required to heal struggling relationships, improve conversation and communication, and strengthen accountability and productivity in the workplace.
Through this recent experience, here are the top three things I have learned curiosity teaches us about each other, how it strengthens our leadership, relationships, and decision-making process.
- Curiosity requires time. As leaders I know we have fallen into a vicious cycle that somehow our role as a leader must be equated to a high level of busyness. We don’t allow enough time for true relationship building. I think an area where leaders routinely fail is their inability to be present. They have accepted the burden of what they think is expected of them three minutes from, three hours from now, or three weeks from now. We need to grow our leadership skill of time management to enable us to be present now, at this moment, and in the next moment, and in the next moment. Almost every failure we have as leaders can be traced back to not taking the time to ask enough questions or the right questions. When we invest time in our curiosity about others rather than by a perceived schedule we actually save time later by avoiding miscommunication, emotional flare-ups, and protecting the mind from bias.
- Curiosity requires trust. We continue to evolve into a society that enables a culture of fear. It is taboo to discuss our emotions and feelings in the workplace. We don’t want to get into anyone’s business nor do we want anyone snooping around ours. I will be the first to admit that emotional boundaries are very healthy and needed. However, as true Americans, we have taken it to an extreme and to our own detriment. Curiosity is a basic instinct that has kept our species alive. That innate sense of wonder and exploration actually releases feel-good hormones in our brain such as dopamine when we encounter someone or something new. To grow as leaders and to lead real, lasting change we have to start from a place of trust rather than forcing people to earn trust.
- Curiosity can build empathy. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that as humans we don’t necessarily need to treat each other as humans. We have this underlying belief that failure is not an option and mistakes are unacceptable. And if mistakes lead to failure then that situation should be sanitized of all human emotion and feeling. However, research tells us when we are curious rather than condemning about how individuals came to a certain outcome or decision then our internal and external environments actually attain a higher level of accountability. In other words, if we act out of curiosity, ask questions filled with grace and self-disclosure, what could have been a very difficult situation can actually lead to a better product, discussion, or outcome the second time around if that dealt with in an empathetic manner.
Curiosity can be the greatest elixir to cure what ails us the most in our relationships. It keeps us feeling engaged and alive rather than in dread. Given appropriate time to grow, it can be the starting motivator for trust in any relationship. Finally, I believe one of the greatest needs we have in our current state is more empathy for one another. Curiosity can be one of the greatest gifts we give to ourselves, family, team, or community.