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The Power and Importance of Leadership Curiosity

May 13, 2024

Curiosity has become a hallmark of leaders who drive innovation and guide their organizations to new heights in today’s fast-evolving and competitive business landscape. Being curious is often hailed as a virtue because it compels us to explore beyond the familiar, challenge the status quo, and relentlessly pursue new knowledge and insights. This fundamental drive to understand and innovate is crucial in navigating the complexities of the modern market and adapting to its incessant changes.

Drawing from Chapter 5 of my forthcoming book, “Leadership Virtues,” this post delves into how curiosity empowers business leaders, blending psychological, philosophical, and cultural insights with vivid examples from literature, film, and real-life visionary executives. Through this exploration, we’ll see that curiosity is not just beneficial but essential, serving as the engine of intellectual growth and the spark for transformative ideas in business.

Exploring the Layers of Curiosity

Philosophical Roots: Historically, philosophers from Aristotle to the present day have championed curiosity as a fundamental virtue that leads to wisdom. Contemporary thinker Martha Nussbaum connects it to empathy and a broader understanding of the world—qualities critical for today’s interconnected business leaders. Arnold Edinborough succinctly captures this essence, stating, “Curiosity is the very basis of education, and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly.”

Psychological Perspectives: Through the lens of psychology, curiosity is seen as a driver of cognitive growth and resilience, enabling leaders to tackle complex challenges and adapt to unexpected obstacles. It promotes an innovative and growth-oriented workplace culture. Echoing Einstein’s famous advice, “The important thing is not to stop questioning,” psychologist Todd Kashdan suggests that curious individuals tend to make better decisions, enhance their leadership capabilities, and continuously reinvent themselves.

Cultural and Spiritual Resonance: Across various cultures and religious traditions, being curious is revered as a path to greater enlightenment and awareness. Understanding this aspect can help leaders appreciate the deep value of fostering curiosity within their teams. Over a millennium ago, the Islamic scholar Ibn Al-Haytham emphasized the importance of skepticism in learning, advising scholars to question everything in their quest for truth.

Business Leaders Who Exemplify Curiosity

Ed Catmull, Pixar: Ed Catmull fostered a curiosity-driven culture at Pixar that spurred groundbreaking innovations in computer animation, such as “Toy Story.” His approach underscores Elizabeth Gilbert’s view that “Curiosity is the gateway drug to empathy, which is the main agent of creativity.”

Mary Barra, General Motors: With advancements like the Chevy Bolt as an example, Mary Barra’s forward-thinking curiosity about green technologies and the future of transportation has put GM at the forefront of the electric and autonomous vehicle market. Her leadership style resonates with Michael Gelb‘s insight: “Innovators are naturally curious. They ask ‘why’ and ‘what if’ with a genuine desire to understand and imagine new possibilities.”

Reed Hastings, Netflix: Reed Hastings’ endless curiosity about technology and consumer preferences transformed Netflix from a DVD rental service to a global streaming leader. His willingness to constantly challenge the status quo and explore new ideas is a testament to his belief that “Curiosity, critical thinking, and commitment to testing new ideas are all vital to innovation and success.”

Strategic Benefits of Embracing Curiosity

Driving Innovation: Curiosity fuels organizational growth by inspiring the exploration of innovative strategies and technologies, ingraining innovation into the company’s DNA.

Enhancing Decision-Making: Curious leaders consistently seek new information and perspectives, leading to sharper decision-making and more effective problem-solving skills. An African proverb reinforces this: “The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way.”

Strengthening Empathy and Relationships: Curiosity fosters stronger, more empathetic connections within teams and with external stakeholders, as it encourages an appreciation for diverse viewpoints.

Practical Steps to Cultivate Curiosity

Encourage Inquiry: Create an environment where employees feel empowered to ask challenging questions and rethink the status quo. Peter Drucker highlights this approach: “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

Promote Continuous Learning: Invest in opportunities for your team to acquire new skills and knowledge, reflecting on these experiences to enhance learning, as John Dewey suggested: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Model Curiosity Yourself: Demonstrate your commitment to curiosity by exploring new ideas and seeking out diverse perspectives, embodying John Wooden’s wisdom: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”


Curiosity is more than just a personal trait; it is a strategic asset that unlocks innovation, adaptability, and deeper connections. By actively fostering curiosity, leaders can open new avenues for their organizations and secure a competitive edge in a constantly changing business landscape.

Call to Action

Integrate being curious into your daily routines. Challenge yourself and your team to think differently, question assumptions, and relentlessly pursue new knowledge and understanding. The future of your organization could depend on how effectively you cultivate this essential quality. As Walt Disney said, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”