Curious leader: General, More combined scout, Spy and Information Officer

 

After my blog on curious leaders last year, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come to me lamenting the lack of curiosity in their own leaders. They’ve described stubbornness, bias, ignorant assumptions, closed-mindedness – and the resulting disengagement that they have felt as a result.

I wasn’t surprised. As discussed in that article, leaders have to overcome many personal, psychological and organisational barriers to become truly curious. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be investigating different aspects of organisational curiosity – starting this week with a look at the leader’s role in strategy – both development and implementation.

A GENERALS APPROACH TO LEADERSHIP

Strategy used to be simply (relatively speaking):

  • You analysed and worked out where you were, (possibly why?) and where your competitors were
  • You decided where you wanted to be
  • You developed plan – a strategy – to get there
  • You implemented the strategy, and wahey: success!

In the model above, the scope for curiosity is pretty limited. Maybe some good questions were asked during the analysis stage, but even here the chances are that you were straightjacketed by limited time, limited modelling, groupthink or a personal need on the part of many to toe the line, support the big beasts and avoid embarrassment or conflict.

And in terms of leadership, most of the leader’s time and energy (364 days) was/is spent on implementation – primarily through command and control approaches such as targets, KPIs and performance management.

The change is defined – and the change is managed! Rigorously!   In many workplaces, it can seem like a military operation where dissent is silenced. The leader is seen as a general – defending their strategies and ideas, forcing cynical, despairing troops through various self-defeating exercises in pursuit of a questionable goal.

This approach doesn’t create or support a curious workplace. And isn’t effective strategy. Such rigid strategic implementation simply doesn’t work in times of chaos when everything – the competitive landscape, technology, stakeholder priorities, staff skills and customer demands – are changing so rapidly.


THE SCOUT THE SPY and the INFORMATION OFFICER 

A curious leader rejects the role of the general and focuses on the roles of scout, spy and information officer.

A scout doesn’t have a plan, or even a map – but sets out to make one. They are curious about everything – the landscape, new opportunities, potential risks and obstacles, practical opportunities. The scout is there to learn – trying different routes, using trial and error – always on the look-out for anything that could help. The scout develops a range of alternative options based on real conditions in the field and is any organisation’s main defence against strategic disaster

Supporting the scout is the spy. Any organisation needs to know what’s coming next. With ‘events’ derailing so many strategic plans, the spy’s role is to sense, anticipate, investigate and inform about anything – internal and external – that could impact the implementation of strategy.

And finally, the information officer finds, holds and analysis all the data that could influence effective strategy. They both ask the interesting questions and mine the data for answers.

STRATEGIC CURIOUS LEADER

The curious leader sees strategy – both development and implementation – as something which is constantly moving and evolving, responding to changes nimbly rather than ever assuming any defined strategy is either set in stone, or effectively mapped out.

The curious leader constantly asks strategic questions of both themselves and others, challenging the status quo and demanding others do the same.

The curious leader not only plays the role of scout, spy and information officer themselves, they encourage others to play these roles as well – respecting those who question and challenge above the ‘yes’ men and women who merely implement.

In this way, the curious leader is more democratic than a general ever would be. The curious leader is comfortable in their skin as no more than first among equals – knowing that ideas trump egos.

 

Workshop InformationDue to the popularity of her corporate events, Julie is running a limited number of sessions open to the public. To learn how to manage smart people, lead with curiosity, and meet your goals in a hands-on, facilitated environment, attend one of Julie’s workshops.