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Curiosity: The Leadership Quality Millennials Are Demanding of You

Lori West 23 May 2016
Have you ever wondered what it is that distinguishes the über successful leaders from the mildly or vaguely successful leaders? If so, what do you do about your wondering? Do you daydream and then dismiss it as a passing fancy, believing you’ll never know? Or do you make it your business to find out what it is that creates amazingly successful leaders?

Your answer to this question will give you a clue about the very thing that holds you back from success. Have I piqued your curiosity yet? I hope so, because that’s the quality I’m talking about - curiosity.

What is it about curiosity that drives success, especially in terms of leadership? I’m sure you know what curiosity means to you, but how is it defined, and what are the origins of the word? This will shine light on why curiosity is a leadership quality you will want to cultivate in yourself.

Curious comes from the Latin root, cura, meaning, “care.” The expanded version of the word curiositatem means “desire of knowledge, inquisitiveness”. This latter definition is more of what we associate with curiosity, but I want to point out the most fundamental root of the word, which means to care.

When you are curious, what are you demonstrating? You demonstrate that you care, whether you’re demonstrating that you care for people, an issue, a technology or a process. Being engaged enough to ask questions or delve into the topic to find out more suggests you’re willing to devote time, energy and attention to something or someone.

You demonstrate that you care with your interest.

How many of you, as established or budding leaders, take time out to walk around your office or your community, getting to know the people around you? How many of you schedule this into your day or week as a leadership opportunity? How many of you stop to find out how projects are going? How many of you ask about your PA’s children, if he or she has them?

Why is this important to leadership? When people seek to distinguish the difference between management and leadership, they usually place management in the mechanical role, managing processes and delivery, where as leaders are seen as people who inspire other PEOPLE to greatness.

How can you expect to inspire your team to greatness if you don’t bother to connect with them on a personal level? How can you expect to inspire your team to greatness if your team members see you as a machine and not a human being? When you reduce your people to being resources, you strip away the qualities that make them special. Their individuality. Their personal stories. Their triumphs. Their defeats. Their challenges. Their strengths. Their weaknesses. Their possibilities. Their desires. Their hopes. Their fears. Their dreams. Their humanity.

I read this in a lot of the leadership material published online, especially regarding the problem with "Millennials." Recently, a company shared a story on social media about a young chap who came for an internship. The person writing the story, a senior manager, stopped to have a conversation with the “Millennial” to discover that the young man had designed an amazing system to solve a challenge the company was facing.

The article ended with the statement, “Wake up, Millennials.”

My response? “Wake up, Leaders.” It was only in the asking that this "leader" discovered what treasures lay beneath the surface in this young person’s thinking. I am sure his idea was amazing, but I assert that while he may be unique in his particular take on said problem, he is not unique amongst Millennials.

In fact, each and every Millennial in your company will have amazing ideas and approaches to problem solving. What they have to offer you is unencumbered creative thinking not bound by statements like, “This is the way we do things here,” or “This is the received wisdom about how to handle this situation.”

So, are you being curious? Are you really listening? Are you providing a forum for the younger members of your team to share their ideas? Are you asking for their input? Or are you demanding that they do it your way?

You see, I firmly believe that the “Millennials,” for want of a better term, are here to show you a new way. They’re creating a problem because they’re challenging your point of view. With access to information from all sorts of sources, they’re much less willing to buy your BS. That’s why they are such a problem to the Gen X’ers, the previous problem children who have now grown up and become just like Mom and Dad, the Baby Boomers.

It happens to the best of us. Did you make a commitment to yourself when you were in your twenties that you’d never end up like your parents? Have a look at your life. I’ll bet there are more similarities than you’d care to admit. I bet you complain about your children using electronic devices the way your parents complained about you watching too much telly.

Who is going to stop the rot? Who is going to stop tarring young people with the same generational brush and start getting to know them? Will you?

Young minds turn up to challenge us to move out of our comfort zones and explore new avenues. Are you willing to acknowledge this? Are you willing to see it, to explore it, to become curious about how young people think? Do you care enough to make the commitment?

Take a moment to consider what impact it might have on your leadership, especially if you work in a corporate environment. What might happen if, instead of pointing the finger and attributing behaviour to a generation, you sought to understand the behaviour by asking questions?

You might learn something. You might suddenly take on a fresh perspective, a relevant one even. You might gain respect from all the Millennials you’ve been alienating with your attitude towards them. You might even find that the people, once a thorn in your side, become your greatest business partners. You might even begin to feel younger, more vibrant and energetic yourself.

Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

Have you become stuck in your leadership? If so, I invite you to ignite your curiosity, especially in your people. When you’ve done that, come back and share the difference it makes to you and your teams.

Leadership is about people. Being engaged with your teams creates greater engagement, enabling you to overcome one of the biggest challenges businesses are currently facing - employee engagement.

In fact, curiosity is the currency that will provide you huge returns on your leadership investment, and a wealth of satisfaction and personal growth to boot.

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