In Praise of the Incurably Curious Leader

  • Douglas A. Ready
  • July 18, 2019

 Constant curiosity is essential to navigating leadership in a changing world.

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.