In Praise of the Incurably Curious Leader
Constant curiosity is essential to navigating leadership in a changing world.
Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy
In Collaboration WithCognizant
I don’t know where curiosity comes from, but if you could bottle it, I’d buy it. It is so valuable, when things are changing so quickly, to have people on your team who are trying every day to better understand the world around them.
— Dan Shapero, Vice President, Global Solutions, LinkedIn
Companies don’t become great by themselves or by accident. They are nurtured over time by great leaders and their teams. Alan Mulally, the iconic former CEO of Ford Motor Co., is often considered to be the person who saved the struggling automaker. Mulally would be the first to tell you that this label is pure nonsense. Larry Fink, the cofounder and CEO of BlackRock, a technology-driven financial platform that is the world’s largest asset management firm, is similarly credited with being one of the world’s financial geniuses. Fink too would scoff at the notion. While these CEOs successfully led very different companies and have very different personalities, they do share one particular behavior that defines who they are as leaders: They are both incurably curious.
Having worked with Fink and his leadership team on refining their talent strategy, I would often hear Fink describe himself as a perpetual student who always asked questions and demanded the same from his team. When Mulally joined Ford to take on one of the largest corporate transformations in history, he didn’t start by cutting costs or people; he started by asking his team why people weren’t buying Fords anymore. He wanted to better understand the root cause of the problem and not focus on offering temporary fixes.
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There is a growing recognition among leaders that curiosity is essential to navigating a continuously changing world. This key finding has emerged from an exciting new research project, the Future of Leadership in the Digital Economy, that MIT Sloan Management Review and Cognizant are conducting. As the guest editor for this program, I’ve conducted dozens of interviews with C-suite executives from around the world. In these interviews, curiosity was mentioned over and over again as a critically important leader behavior. “Leaders need to understand and interpret the massive amounts of data that are coming at them every minute of every day and be able to cut through the noise,” says Dan Shapero, vice president of global solutions and head of sales for LinkedIn.