The 11th Trait of a Positive Thinker: #11 CURIOSITY
This is your “baker’s dozen” on Scott Ventrella’s 10 traits of a positive thinker. His list includes these following 10 traits: 1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus. The list would simply be incomplete without Curiosity as one of the positive traits a leader must have to be effective. Genius Albert Einstein is quoted as having said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
This blog addresses Curiosity in Leadership. If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who practices curiosity…
- HUMILITY. Do “tap into my ignorance” by asking for information on what I don’t know?
- EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE. Am I more curious than fearful to ask for clarification on something new?
- SOCRATIC REASONING. Do I inquire before I opine, or in lieu of advocating my beliefs?
- LADDER OF INFERENCE. Do I seek interpretation of behavior before making my conclusions?
- PASSION. Do I explore areas of interest without any other incentive than plain curiosity?
What I have found in my 15+ years of working with executives who excel as leaders is that if you have a question, then you must ask or research for the answer. This is challenging because we all come with our own sets of “experiential baggage” which cause us to infer meaning from dialogue and behavior. Leaders are willing to explore a myriad of alternative explanations; while others will clamor, “That’s not what s/he meant!” and will disgruntledly jump up the “Ladder of Inference” to settle conclusively on their beliefs. Digging their heels into their beliefs assures them that they are right.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was raised in a potpourri of diversity and in a dual-language home. My environment was the perfect social laboratory for asking all sorts of questions, and, consequently in later life, I learned I sometimes need to stop myself from asking too much. Moving to Nashville, I have encountered people who have been raised in largely homogeneous populations. Most everyone with whom they socialize is more or less the same, so to join a “socialized circle” and act differently can be perceived as an affront or a threat to how “things work around here.”
On one occasion, a fellow informed me that I use words that he did not understand. “Like what?” I asked, thinking that perhaps I mentioned some Organization Development (OD) terminology, which is language used more commonly in my industry than in laymen’s speech. He answered angrily, “Like SoCal. I had no idea what you meant, and I got lost in your message.” I apologized immediately, made a mental note to watch more carefully for non-verbal cues, and requested that he please make sure to stop me if I ever did it again and I will be more attuned to gauging his comprehension. (Incidentally, when I first arrived to Nashville, several people referenced Vanderbilt University as “Vandy” – I had no clue what they were talking about, and, what do you know?…I interjected with a quick question for them to help me out. There were no tears in my coffee over people using words that were unfamiliar to me). The reflective question then is: How can someone feel so put-off by something so simple? The answer is: What is simple for us may not be simple for others. We, therefore, often infer the context of a situation based off of our own POV (point of view). This is what we refer to in OD as climbing the Ladder of Inference.
Climbing up the six rungs of the “Ladder of Inference” begins at the base with Observable Data. E.g. I hear you using language unfamiliar to me. Then, it moves up the ladder with Select Data. E.g. Out of everything you say that is so crystal clear, I am going to select one word that sticks out for me as unclear and generalize your communication as confusing and convoluted. The next rung up the ladder is attaching Meaning. E.g. What you mean to achieve by using that word “SoCal” is to exclude me from the conversation. Rising up in a fury to the next rung is Assumptions. E.g. I assume that you are attempting to render me as incompetent. (Hear 16 seconds of what Samuel Jackson has to say about making assumptions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miPPQu2iqts). This leads to the next rung up: Conclusion. E.g. I conclude that you believe yourself to be superior to me. The highest rung is Beliefs. E.g. I believe myself to be inferior, and I believe you to be arrogant.
Self-awareness helps us clean up those “clogged pipes” from all the junk that gets stuck in the pipe we call “life.” Unfortunately, that pipe gets carried into work. True leaders manifest at least most of the 11 traits of a positive thinker. Even if we, as leaders, don’t practice curiosity regularly, we can overcome our fears and negative beliefs with several of the other 10 positive traits, such as Optimism (giving someone the positive doubt) and Belief (choosing to believe there is positive intent).
Keep asking questions. Be curious. Think different(ly)*.
Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. CorporateLookingGlass.com.
*(Suffix added for the Oxford English audience).
My Pepperdine education.
©Rossina Gil, 2013