Curiosity: A Critical Leadership Skill To Gain Knowledge And Stop Drama

April 3, 2017

Curiosity as a leadership skill

You will find yourself in various difficult situations on your leadership journey. To handle these situations, you need to develop a toolbox of critical leadership skills. One such tool is curiosity.

Curiosity can help you to get to the root of a problem, stop workplace drama, and promote better workplace relationships. Curiosity keeps you out of assumptions and helps you navigate the unknown, especially when conducting difficult performance conversations.

Mastering the leadership skill of curiosity

Becoming a master at using curiosity requires you to ask effective questions.

Anyone can ask a question, but questions can be probing, provocative, or pushy. Timing is everything, but the key to asking a question is to start from the right intention.

A question asked from the intention to catch someone in a lie or to one-up the other is not really curiosity but game-playing. We’ve all been the victim of pseudo-curiosity where a superior asks a question to which the answer is already known. Underneath this kind of question is a passive-aggressive game of “gotcha.”

Below are two common situations you may face as a manager, with examples of an ineffective question and an effective question. As you read through the situations, take note that what determines the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the question is the underlying intention.

Situation No. 1: Someone makes a decision with which you disagree

Ineffective question: Why in the world did you make that decision?
Intention: To shame someone
Effective question: Can you walk me through your thought process as you made that decision?
Intention: To learn how the other person makes decisions

Situation No. 2: A colleague berated an employee in front of the team

Ineffective question: Did you know that what you said hurt Kim’s feelings?
Intention: To gossip, to reprimand, or to change behavior
Effective question: Have you thought about a more effective way to communicate with Kim?
Intention: To make the other person reflect or to open a dialogue for course-correction

Curiosity is a leadership skill that will help you lead others, increase engagement, and gain collaboration. If you use curiosity effectively, you not only gain knowledge but build better workplace relationships.

Curiosity must come from the right intention—the intention to understand, learn, or know more about someone or something.

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About The Author

Marlene Chism is an executive educator, consultant, and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley, 2011) and No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion, 2015). She works with executives and high-performing leaders who want to transform culture in the workplace. She can be reached at

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