There is a fundamental difference between managers and leaders. While they often, if not usually co-exist within the same person, the roles have fundamentally different goals.
Managers exist to get things done, to make the program work. Their job is to reduce obstacles, and to achieve the desired outcome with as little resistance as possible.
Leaders on the other hand exist to create change, the kind of positive change that enables the group to achieve more, faster, and with greater benefit to its members. They seek to make the program work better. This requires a good deal of intellectual curiosity to uncover not only innovation, but also a sense of possibility that aids in making their vision more compelling.
Curiosity is one of the foundational Commitments of Leadership Zen. Why is it so important? Because nothing signals the death knell of an organization more than looking at different pictures and trying to come to the same conclusions. Yet that’s what happens in companies and other organizations every day. The world changes, and the opportunities and threats to your mission change with it. But too often we try to apply the same time worn solutions to the problems we face, and inevitably become less and less effective over time. Worse, we lose perspective on how effective our previous solutions really were because we are unable to be creative.
Good leaders not only resist satisfaction at the old ways of their organization, but also taking too much pride in previous successes. They are self-aware, freely admitting what worked and how well or otherwise in assessing previous performance. But they are also curious, looking for all sources of information to understand the realities they face. They don’t just look for data that supports their own conclusions, and because of it, they make better decisions.
Curiosity also helps to develop critical strategic thinking skills. Nothing in this world, especially in business, is black and white. Rarely is there ever just one solution to a given problem either. By seeking to understand more and more different perspectives, approaches and solutions, good leaders are better able to see and communicate the big picture, as well as to prioritize workloads for the most important impacts.
Finally, the curious leader is an engaged leader. It forces to seek counsel from others, confronting your own assumptions from the perspectives of others. That takes courage and humility, two other foundational Commitments of Leadership Zen, and in my opinion two of the greatest assets of the Zen Leader. No one likes to admit when they’re wrong; good leaders on the other hand have the confidence and the security in themselves to know they can’t always be right. That is a very endearing quality when you’re trying to build consensus and followers of your vision.
Look for ways to expand your horizons. The best way is not from a book, although I highly encourage you to do those too. You won’t find it in a class, although increasing your baseline knowledge in anything will make you a better-rounded individual. The best way to improve your perspective is to listen to others’, and never be satisfied with what you think you know. In this way you will increase your own contributions as a leader, as well as the overall effectiveness of the results you achieve.