Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.
Best practices for leading are everywhere, and often the best ones don’t come from the world of business. For example, observe the leaders in your life outside of work.
You might find nuggets of leadership excellence from a parent, an in-law, a clergy member, a speaker at a professional association meeting, a friend, a stranger you follow on social media, your child’s school principal, a Scout troop leader, or a particularly helpful manager at a local store. Healthy leadership is everywhere. Watch, ask, listen, and learn.
There are also lessons to be learned in everything your team does. Look for learning opportunities in post-project reviews, customer meetings, conflicts with other departments, changes in priorities, miscommunications, and mistakes.
Get curious about these situations. This will also set a positive example for your employees and plant the seeds of curiosity in them. Try these five strategies to cultivate curiosity for you and your team.
Seek novelty. Humans naturally seek and enjoy novelty. Novelty is good for us and helps us create new neural connections. Try something for the first time, explore new experiences. For some, this may be skydiving or bungee jumping, but you can also reach new heights on the ground.
Consider things that stretch you, such as: taking an improv or painting class; hiking a new trail in your area; learning a new sport (we started playing pickleball recently); or trying a new recipe with unfamiliar ingredients. Even new puzzles, card games, or board games can infuse novelty into your day.
Find a mentor. Mentors are a great source of growth and an ideal place to quench your curiosity about the future. If experience truly is the best teacher, then you would be wise to study the life lessons and expertise of a mentor. For the greatest benefit, seek out mentors with the specific skills you desire to acquire.
Maybe it’s your organization’s top strategist, the salesperson with the magnetic people skills, or the teammate who is consistently a top performer. Mentors can be older or younger than you. Younger mentors may not have as much experience in the field, but they can also offer fresh insights, tools, and perspectives.
Ask questions. Questions are a shortcut to learning and growing. Tap back into your childhood curiosity, which is very useful in adulthood. Start with two simple questions.
1. Can you tell me more? Most people are not as thorough in their replies as the curious mind requires, so ask others to share more about the topic or situation to help you see a more complete picture.
2. Why? Consider the number of times you’ve heard children ask “Why, why, why?” This question gets to the heart of a childlike curiosity and deeper understanding. Why did we get that result? Why does this process have these steps? Why are we doing project X this way? Why does this matter for the organization? Why does it take X days to complete this task? Why are we measuring this? Finding the answer to such questions is fantastic, but the mental growth that comes from regularly straining to untangle hard why questions is even more important.
Identify patterns. Look for patterns or themes among people, problems, and situations. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of underlying dynamics that are the root cause for the way people perform, the reason problems exist, and the way situations play out.
You’ll uncover transferable insights that are applicable in other contexts in the future. Picking out patterns in this fashion also helps create new neural pathways to keep your brain growing and active.
Create learning goals. It’s smart to have performance goals identifying what you want to achieve. In addition, healthy leaders establish learning goals that identify specific skills or knowledge they want to develop. Achieving a learning goal typically increases your personal capacity to achieve performance goals in the future.
For example, a leader might have a performance goal of implementing a new system within budget and on time. She might also have a learning goal to improve her communication and project management skills. Clearly, achieving her learning goals will better enable her and her team to achieve the performance goal of implementing the new system.
In fact, in a study published in the Academy Management Executive, researchers used a business simulator to test the effects of learning goals for sales professionals. According to their results, “Performance was highest for individuals with a specific, high-learning goal. The market share achieved by those with a learning goal was almost twice as high as those with a performance outcome goal.”
This is not an “either-or” proposition; rather, it’s an “and-both” proposition. Set specific performance goals and set specific learning goals.