Curiosity: The Secret Weapon of Great Coaches and Leaders

Genius extraordinaire Albert Einstein was attributed to saying,

“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Einstein was clearly onto something.  

Research has shown that curiosity is correlated with creativity and innovation, intelligence, tighter relational bonds, improved learning, and problem-solving. With all those benefits, it’s no wonder that creating a culture of curiosity is something every leader should strive for.  

As a coach in training, I was taught to form my questions with a mindset of curiosity instead of information gathering. With a curiosity mindset, I could observe my client in fascination, and see a coaching conversation as a path where insights, learnings, and discovery could thrive.  

In contrast, with an information gathering style of questioning, I take on a role as the expert, as the knower, as the one directing the conversation and coming up with recommendations. This is not coaching.  

With curiosity I am inviting my clients to explore their inner wisdom and unveil solutions that only they could have come up with. This discovery process is the power and beauty of coaching.  

While curiosity strengthens relational bonds, interrogation builds walls that repel intimacy. With curiosity, there is exploring, uncovering, exposing, digging, considering, or reflecting. These lead to shifted mindsets, creative perspectives, new understanding and learning, which is at the heart of effective coaching. 

With a culture of curiosity comes a culture of trust, openness, and collaboration. These are the foundations of creativity, and why many savvy leaders today try to adopt a coach approach in their conversations and interactions with their teams and colleagues. 

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” This quote by Naguib Mahfouz sums up the role questions play in curiosity and discernment.  

As coaches, we know that being curious is one of our most important postures because it allows us to “dance in the moment” with our clients and engage in their limitless wisdom and resourcefulness. As leaders in our businesses and in the coaching field, being curious has similar benefits. 

Here are four strategies to ensure you cultivate curiosity as a leader in your business and in your clients so they can draw from its many benefits as well. 

1. Pay attention to being curious

This may sound obvious but it’s not. You must learn to stop asking questions as the leader, expert, or knower. Instead, ask questions simply out of curiosity. This puts you in a mindset of not being attached to a response so you can maintain a curious stance throughout a conversation. 

2. Model curiosity

Leaders can create a culture of curiosity by modeling it themselves. Acknowledging when they don’t know the answer, and making themselves vulnerable to not being the knower, allows leaders to capitalize from input from others. When you adopt a posture of curiosity as a leader, this means you employ a questioning style of communicating like someone who digs deep rather than just staying on the surface of things. This in turn encourages exploration, innovation, empowerment, and confidence among team members. 

3. Draw out curiosity from those you lead

Leaders can help draw out our innate curiosity.  Asking “what if…?” and “how might you…?” questions generate more creative ways of tackling an issue. As a coach, when a client makes a statement that I know has the potential to have many layers of “stuff” under it, I ask a question like, “say more about that,” or make a direct observation such as, “I’m wondering whether…” or “what’s the real issue at play here?” or “what do you make of this situation?” These elicit deeper levels of exploration which lead to fresh insights and perspectives.  

4. Prime the pump of curiosity

Curiosity can’t flourish when there is a lack of awareness. In her book, Dare to Lead, author and researcher Brené Brown talks about how “priming the pump” so teams have enough awareness to be curious, is critical to engaging curiosity. Curiosity can’t flourish when there is a lack of awareness. As coaches we know that the bulk of a coaching conversation is about generating a greater awareness on behalf of our clients by asking powerful questions, direct communication, establishing trust and intimacy, and using reflective inquiry. All these techniques help build awareness so that our clients can then be curious about their new insights. It’s the same with leadership. Those we lead must have enough information to draw from so that their curiosity has a place to take root.  

Like most things, curiosity is a talent, something that you can improve upon with practice. As a leader, coach, or business owner, adopting a posture of curiosity will help you leverage its many benefits, so you reap the rewards of stronger relational connections, engagement, and creativity, and create an environment where possibility is evident.  

Written by Natalie Jobity
Curiosity: The Secret Weapon of Great Coaches and Leaders – International Coaching Federation