Most of us are good at fooling ourselves into believing that we are more curious than we really are. This is why we need to enlist others to give us feedback as to how curious we really are.One of the signal strengths of successful leaders is their commitment to curiosity -- their ability to look at every situation and see it not in terms of right and wrong, or us vs. them, but to ask, "What can I learn from this?" It's a quality that allows them to adapt to changing conditions, to learn from adversity and turn adversaries into teachers. In the conscious leadership forums we hold across the country, we ask people to locate themselves as above or below the line as they discuss a specific issue in their lives. So far we have discovered that 80% of the time when people think they are above the line, their team or community says otherwise.
Recently, Mike shared with his forum that he is struggling in his relationship with his wife. He told the group that their intimacy has diminished significantly, but reported that he is open and curious about how to shift it. His forum mates felt differently; 85% of them voted that he was below the line. One said, “I voted you below the line because you said you are afraid to tell her exactly how you feel.” Another said, “I voted you below the line because you sounded like you wanted to be right that it was more her fault than yours.”The feedback continued. Mike was able to see that he was indeed below the line. He appreciated the group for their reflections, then courageously owned that he was committed to being disconnected from his wife. The group appreciated him for his honesty and celebrated him for being just where he was. His work was to appreciate himself for being right where he was and to learn more about the payoffs he was getting from being below the line before he shifted. The group had offered him a great service.
Last month, I was working with Jane and her team. Jane was telling everyone in the room that she was open to feedback about her leadership. I told Jane that I didn’t experience her as being above the line, based on her tone of voice, posture and words. She told me that I was not perceiving her correctly; she was sure that she was open and curious. I asked if she would be willing to get feedback from the 20 others in the room. She agreed. All but one, who abstained from voting, viewed Jane as below the line. Jane was stunned. She told the whole team that they were inaccurate in their assessment because she was clear that she was above the line. I interjected, “So Jane, what you are telling us is that the 19 of us who are giving you feedback that we don’t perceive you to be open and curious are inaccurate. Jane paused. The power of the collective feedback was challenging her perspective. After a moment she acknowledged with some hesitancy that perhaps she was not as open as she had thought. I’m not sure Jane would have questioned her own openness without such strong reflection from her community.
Do you have people in your life who give you honest feedback about whether you’re genuinely curious as you navigate the challenges of your life? Are you willing to pay close attention to the people around you and to offer feedback about where you perceive them to be coming from when they share their struggles with you?
Being willing to give and receive candid feedback from trusted community is a hallmark of conscious leadership. So, turn to your right or your left, and ask someone or someone you trust where they really think you’re coming from the next time you’re convinced you’re more interested in being curious than being right. What have you got to lose except an attachment to being right? That’s something we can all afford to lose.