3 Words to Make You a Better Leader

Be curious and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up. ~Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, brilliant, and an amazing human being who thrived on curiosity. In 2015 PwC surveyed more than 1,000 CEOs and a number of them identified curiosity and open-mindedness as leadership traits that are increasingly important in a dynamic environment.

Simply telling leaders to be more curious may have little effect. It will likely require a shift, or for some a transformation, in how they lead. Many people who quickly work themselves into leadership positions are there because they can come up with fixes and solutions, and do it rapidly. They may also believe that they need to have a presence grounded in assertiveness and expertise to be an effective leader.

Sound like someone you know? Maybe even you?

Here’s the shift. Being curious means asking more questions, and asking questions that aren’t pragmatic, interrogative inquisitions. What’s the cost? Where will we get the funding? Who will be responsible? Being curious means asking questions that are based on exploration and discovery. Three simple words can transform your ability to lead from a place of curiosity instead of interrogation. Those three words are:

How might we…” also known as HMW.

A more typical approach, such as: How can we do this? How should we do that? The words “can” and “should” suggest a judgment. Can you really do it? Even, should we do it? Asking how might we do something defers judgment and allows people to suggest ideas or options more freely and likely generate more possibilities.

IDEO, Google, and Facebook have all used HMW, and it’s moved to the nonprofit sector as well. “Steelcase’s former CEO Jim Hackett points out that the goal should be to encourage the formulation of questions rooted in deep critical thinking about the particular challenges and issues of the company, its customers, its industry.” [Warren Berger, Become a Company That Questions Everything, HBR, April 30, 2014]

Returning to Stephen Hawking, The New York Times stated this about Hawking last week. “Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and became an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died early Wednesday at his home in Cambridge.”

I’m guessing that the word might or how might we or how might it was very common in Hawking’s vocabulary. Even in learning to live with the early onset of ALS, he must have asked himself How might I? as opposed to How can I? many, many times.

Hawking: the “emblem of human determination and curiosity.” How might you be more curious?

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