Find out what drives your employees to succeed

employers replace judgement with curiosity, the venture magazineEmployees today are not only looking for the right role in the right organisation, they’re also looking for the right leader. A leader they can relate to and connect with, who inspires them to be their best and who understands what’s important to them. What they don’t necessarily want is a leader who has all the answers, never fails, and leads through control.

Ideo, an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centred, design-based approach to help organisations innovate and grow, has built much of their success on connecting with people and being flexible. When it comes to leadership, the old-school approach just won’t cut it. Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, says that “if you think as a leader you can and should have all the answers, then you’re both wrong and significantly constraining the capacity of the organisation to be creative.”

Like many other organisations, Ideo see the need to constantly change so they can respond to the different kinds of challenges their clients approach them with. Leaders benefit from a similar approach with their staff by constantly adapting to the different personalities, priorities, and challenges that exist. To just “be yourself” won’t cut it anymore, the workplace is operating at a faster pace so the pressure to continually adapt and remain nimble is high.

One approach to continually adapt and remain nimble is for leaders to flip the focus from “me” to “we” — to become curious about what other people want and how they prefer to work. When a leader is curious, they are better equipped to predict and prepare for disruptions and respond proactively rather than reactively. They understand the importance of empowering staff to make their own decisions about the best way to deliver outcomes, which may be very different from their own.

employers replace judgement with curiosity, the venture magazineLeaders who struggle to adapt and remain curious tend to be quick to judge, they “tell” more than they “ask” and come to conclusions prematurely about the motives of their employees. Rather than being curious, judgemental leaders often:

  • Let their ego drive their thoughts and compare themselves to others for the purpose of elevating above or putting below. When a leader elevates themselves above their employees, it’s often to validate their own status or significance, for example, “I would have done a better job because I have more experience than them.” When a leader puts themselves below, it’s often to affirm a belief they have about themselves, for example, “They’re so much better than me, I’ll never be that good,” which may drive them to push harder, control more tightly and resent others.
  • Assume a fixed mindset where they refuse to do things differently but hold on tightly to their way of working. This includes pointing out what’s right or wrong in the work of others based purely on their own perspective; striving for perfection at the risk of timeframes and relationships; and, basing decisions solely on fact and logic rather than embracing ambiguity, possibility, and creativity.
  • Listen for the purpose of responding rather than understanding. They fail to clarify or validate information shared by others, relying instead on their own opinion and preference to operate.
  • Diminish the potential of their people. Leadership expert and author Multipliers, Liz Wiseman, summarises them as leaders who “drain intelligence and capability, and are idea killers and energy destroyers. They tend to do all the critical thinking on their own or with limited inner circles and announce the decisions to others.”

Leaders who take a judgement approach are generally doing so without realising there’s an alternative. They have a standard way of approaching situations and see no valid reason to change. They are more likely to move employees on or out rather than taking the time to understand a different perspective and deal with the underlying issues.

Judgemental leaders who fail to change, learn, adapt, and grow will struggle to remain relevant in the future. In the words of Alvin Toffler, writer, futurist, and businessman, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

employers replace judgement with curiosity, the venture magazineBy replacing judgement with curiosity, leaders will not only remain relevant in the future, they will thrive. Curious leaders are:

  • Open to possibility, even if they don’t have a logical understanding of the steps required to get there – they believe they’ll find a way and most of the time, they do!
  • Interested in different perspectives and see the importance of constantly innovating and creating new ideas, concepts, and ways of working.
  • Aware of the importance of asking questions and then giving the space (the silence) to allow the other person time to consider at a deeper level and respond. Curious leaders know that silence is the door to wisdom and silent reflection is the hallway in between.
  • Confident in the capabilities of their employees and learn to elevate them — even if that means that one day the employee become the boss. Wiseman calls these leaders multipliers and “a type of leader who causes people to lean forward, contribute, and give their best thinking.”

Above all, leaders who are curious are the most inspiring. They don’t just see the future from a “me” perspective, they see the future from a “we” perspective and make decisions based on the collective. They are better able to connect with their people, understand what’s needed and make decisions that are optimal for everyone!


Shelley Flett is an expert in leadership development and team performance, with over a decade of experience in operations and call centres across banking and telecommunications. She is focused on maximising efficiency and building high performance team cultures. Shelley is the Author of The Dynamic Leader: Become the leader others are inspired to follow. For more information about how Shelley can help your leaders visit www.shelleyflett.com.