During a recent discussion, I noted that curiosity and straight talk significantly influenced and defined my leadership development. Both behaviors caused my path to curve in compelling ways and determined my opportunities and effectiveness across a broad spectrum of companies and industries.
These are my top two, but you can quickly generate a list of traits and behaviors that helped you spring forward or fall back. Self-improvement starts by taking a moment to notice and name the habits that serve you and those that don’t.
How curiosity and straight talk show up
Lead by wondering around. It’s fascinating that the most interesting people we meet are interested people. Those who question aloud about how and why things work and whether there is a better way. The ones that walk through offices and speak to anyone and everyone about diverse topics. These individuals recognize that in diverse discussion and thought, new intersections form and distinctions made—perhaps not immediately but in a flash of recall and inspiration some days or weeks later.
Make people connections. Staying curious creates links that establish credibility and increase intimacy. These connections increase rapport, engagement, loyalty, and results. Importantly, respectful, connected, workplaces attract and retain employees who share those values.
Make process connections. I once worked with a CEO who excitedly told his leadership team about the brilliant produce company that decided to shred its lettuce. The $1 head of lettuce became a $3 head of lettuce in a plastic bag. What could we do with our products to add that kind of value? To be clear, the product we made would cause severe indigestion if consumed. By looking outside our industry, we can learn, adapt, and implement innovations in our organization. The CEO’s weekly trips to Target were a source of constant inspiration and innovation in his company. The same opportunity is available to us.
Make customer connections. Our innate tendency to focus inwardly may blind us to the challenges, breakthroughs, and aspirations of our customers. We remain social animals that buy, first and foremost, from other people. Get to know their fears and hopes and serve them at a different level. Helping a customer solve a problem often requires us to create a new solution and push beyond our previous capabilities and imagination. The customer creates a big enough why to drive innovation in our business.
Talk straight. I built my company on the tenets of respect, straight talk, and results. For me, there is overlap in the terms. Straight talk is respectful and how we get results should be. Some say the truth hurts. What hurts more is withholding the truth, telling ourselves the first lie, and then sharing that broadly. Trustworthiness, once lost, is difficult or impossible to recover. When a leader stands before his team and says the company is in trouble and has been for six months, the last thing the team wants to hear is how that leader protected them from the truth six months ago. It comes across as it is, selfish and cowardly. It disrespects the people and robs everyone of a critical problem-solving tool—time.
Taking a behavior inventory
Most of all, by taking an inventory of behaviors and considering the impacts on our effectiveness, we can create a plan to do more of the things that serve us and less of the things that don’t. A helpful step is to ask others what two or three behaviors sum up your style. By collecting a few data points, and adding your own, a clear picture will emerge, allowing you to think about the “so what” of your behaviors.
In the example above, that may lead to increasing the wondering around time with the team to ask better questions and listen reflectively to answers. It may focus on softening the tone, but not the message while giving constructive feedback.
Takeaway: Leaders define themselves by their consistent behaviors. By increasing awareness and understanding in this area, we can identify opportunities for improvement and build upon our strengths to expand our effectiveness.