Adding some “Wonder Why” to your Leadership

I’ve come across this post on Reddit a few times. Every now and then someone will repost it, most likely in the hopes of scoring internet points by leveraging the “feel good”-ness of the story.

It can’t be denied that this is a great story and a wonderful outcome for the young man but it’s a shame that it gets so much reaction for being so out of the ordinary. What if all leaders in all workplaces had this same level of curiosity when approaching their teams? Maybe not every leader has this much freedom to be as accomodating but is there an opportunity to “wonder why” more often and better understand why your team, think, say and do the things they do.

On the surface it might sound simple: just ask a few more questions. But developing a natural sense of curiosity in yourself can have a positive impact on your emotional intelligence (the ability to accurately identify, assess and articulate your emotions and those of other people), social intelligence (effectively interacting with and engaging with other people), as well as your problem solving and analytical abilities. If you’re a leader, the impact of this curiosity will be keenly felt by your team as well.

Before working to develop our “Wonder Why” Leadership, it’s important to understand a little about curiosity itself; what motivates this characteristic in us and what behaviours does it drive? In his work on curiosity, Jordan Litman, has developed the I/D model. His model suggests that curiosity is either driven by Interest or a feeling of being Deprived of information. I-type curiosity is sparked when one learns about something new that could be entertaining, engaging or valuable. On the other hand, D-type is triggered by awareness being brought to gaps in knowledge and a need to know more.

Consider how these types of curiosity could appear to those people you are leading. I-type is typically displayed with a sense of wonder and light hearted drive towards the information. I-type could walk away at anytime but is engaged to stay because of care and an excitement to know more and learn more. On the other hand, D-type is typically displayed as a compulsion to know the information, increasing in intensity, not able to walk away until the knowledge gap is filled. D-type needs to know, where as I-type would like to know.

Now, I wasn’t in the room in the example in the picture above, but I can imagine the type of curiosity displayed by that leader would have been more aligned with I-type behaviours. I think it unlikely that team member would be opening up about his challenges the way he did if he were being grilled for information because the leader needed to know, like the police he interacts with each night. I would suggest by showing their team member that they would like to know, the leader was able to exude a calm sense of care and engaged with the team member with a motivation to learn what they can. This allowed the team member to share as much or as little as he wanted – it was likely the team member who was controlling the flow of information, not the leader.

There will be times where D-type curiosity needs to be employed as it is the nature of management to sometimes need to know. But to pause and “wonder why” more often flips the switch to I-type curiosity and allows your team to control the flow of information they share with you. Respecting that flow and being able to walk away creates trusting connections that allow and encourage team to do their best work.

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