Let me tell you a story, the story of a 7-year kid (maybe me, maybe you, maybe your son or daughter…) being inspired by his parents to be his own superhero:

Who is your hero? – my father asked.

Spider-Man! – I said excitedly.

Why my son? – my father asked.

Dad, because he knows what is right, what is wrong. And he has superpowers! He can save and protect the good guys and our planet against the villains! 🤩 – I answered, even more excited.

And how are you going to look and act like him? – my father asked.

I don’t know… I’ll have to find a spider to bite me… 😂 –  I said, laughing out loud.

My father and I couldn’t stop laughing.

I have an idea that can save us from the hospital… Shall I tell you? – My mom said, joining the conversation.

So my mom started to first tell me a story, followed later on by many other stories (with my dad) embedded in a game called #ConsciousKids. It changed my life!

Tell me, my son, do you remember when you learned to ride a bike? How many times do you fall? Do you remember the knee injuries? And your cries of pain and frustration? – Said mom. 

Well yes, mom! – I answered.

With your dad, we saw you fall, cry, scream with rage and we saw you get up, try again and fall down and try again.- Said mom.

Yes, with mom we looked at each other and I remember we said to ourselves: “He is beautiful, our little one hero!”. – Said dad. 

Do you know why? Nope? Tell me: When did you feel proud and strong like a hero? – Ask mom. 

Well when I managed for the first time to pedal alone without falling for many meters, I was so happy and I cried with joy to be the hero! –  I answered.

There you were just happy to have succeeded. For us, you were a hero every time you got up crying after falling and hurting yourself. – My dad said. 

That’s how and when you were a real hero for us: You showed us your strength, your courage, and your determination to overcome your weakness, and you didn’t give up despite your failures and your pain. – My mom said. 

The important thing is not to fall it’s how you get up. – My dad said. 

Oh yeah, I think I got it. – I said

Good! So, what other opportunities can you find to be your own hero?  – Dad replied

Okay, but that sounds difficult to me. I think it’s easier to go back to the search for the spider than to give me superpowers. 😂 – I said

Don’t worry son. I have an idea! Would you like to play a game with mom and dad? – My mom said. 

Yes, I love playing with you.  – I said

Well, welcome to the Conscious Kids game. We’ll be back with more stories very soon! Are you ready? – My mom said. 

Yes! – we all answered in unison and we laughed together and hugged each other. This game sounds like fun.

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In the last article, we learned all about communication. Before we can get to the next two parts of this series, decision-making and implementation, remember that the quality of our conversations is key. Decision-making requires effective meetings with a clear purpose and effective communication among the people involved.

Making effective decisions is surprisingly, and unfortunately, not so common. Things generally could be much better. In order to chart a better path forward, it is useful to have a model that we can easily implement and rely on. In this decision-making model, I am presenting, there are really only 5 possibilities regarding who “owns” the decision: 

  • I decide: when information is mainly held within the person involved and a fast decision needs to be made
  • We discuss, I decide: This is one of the most used models. One person is responsible but wants to make a more informed decision, and other people have relevant knowledge or perspectives. Another reason to implement this is if you need high levels of engagement from people participating in the implementation coming after. For this, you might need a meeting. The more effective it is, the better information and engagement you will find.
  • We discuss, We decide: This is what we many times call “consensus”. We need to use this type when we are discussing topics related to the team itself: our values, operational agreements, and big strategic choices. But let’s be cautious, as people misunderstand what consensus means — it is not 100% alignment, but means we can live with the 80-20 rule. Yes, it is hard to have 100% alignment among 10 or 20 people or even more. Then, we need to go with the flow and what most people are aligned with. When we are not in full agreement we just need to ask if we can still go with the flow, and this should be true unless there is an ethical or legal issue with the decision that was made. If it’s just a matter of different perspectives, we need to learn to let go and respect what the majority is inclined to.
  • We discuss, You decide: this is complementary to “we discuss, I decide”. In this case, we acknowledge that we empower people while still bringing the knowledge and expertise from others.
  • You decide: when someone has the role and expertise to lead this, we should help them do so. It is a clear way to give accountability and decision-making power to someone.
decision-making

Decision-making

What must be done is pretty simple: define who makes the decision, and how, before making the decision. And then, everyone involved should commit to the outcome upfront. A big roadblock that often comes in the way is that we don’t clarify how we are making decisions. Before starting the actual discussion, clarify who is the decision maker, and what is the mechanism. Start the discussion with the decision-making model already clear.

Once the decision-making model is clear, the common issues highlighted at the start of the article are taken care of as well. People know who is making the decision, even if they disagree on the decision or way forward, they have bought into the process (barring ethical or legal concerns), and they are kept in the loop from the start so that they don’t have to fear outcomes after decisions have already been made. When we put together effective meetings, communication, and decision-making, we have added a lot of productivity and relationship effectiveness to our lives. Think about the positive effects this can have on the individuals, the team, and on business results.

The short answer is no.  Great cultures are those that have a great story that employees want to be part of while great brands are those that have a great story that customers want to be part of.  

Many times, we may think that creating a brand is based on a great marketing strategy. Buying billboards, producing TV commercials, and using social media and content marketing are great tools to create brand awareness, however, remarkable brands are those that create the conditions under which customers want to talk about them and be associated with them. 

The Raving Fan Strategy  

David Salyers, one of the original precursors of the Chick-fil-A brand, promotes a strategy they developed known as the Raving Fan Strategy. In short, this strategy consists of three parts. 

  1. Operational excellence: Serve people and give them what they want, but do it with excellence. 
  1. Second Mile Service: Going the extra mile is not enough; excellence means going a second extra mile to ensure customers/clients/partners spread positive remarks about your brand in a positive way- word of mouth. 
  1. Emotional Connections Marketing: Emotional Connections Marketing is the concept of finding ways to invest marketing dollars and resources into what’s important to your customers and then make it important to you. For example, if you’ve got kids in a local school and I support that school, I’ve supported you – my customer. I’ve used the resources that I have to care about what customers care about. 

The only way that this can happen and be sustained over time is by intentionally building an organizational culture that lives by these values, and then letting your brand story be a consequence of that culture. 

great brands

It Starts with Leadership 

A good place to start is to get clarity on what we stand for as an organization and our desired ways of working in order to create remarkable customer experiences.  These start with our leadership teams and should shape the unwritten norms that tell people what is expected of them and what is celebrated or frowned upon. 

For example: Is it ok to make decisions to serve a good customer without checking every detail with your boss?  Should you follow the rules even if they don’t make sense or are you expected to speak up?   

There are key things that leaders can do to build a strong culture that in turn builds a strong brand.  Leaders need to understand what is important to their customers and then communicate that across the organization to make it important to everyone involved.  Then you have to focus on walking the talk by defining systems and showing behaviors that support these expectations. 

great branding

Culture is Caught more than Taught 

It’s crucial to understand that example teaches much more than just words. A lot of people think, “let’s set up a class and teach our employees about our culture”. But in reality, the strongest way to “teach” cultural values is to bring clarity around what they are, and then empower leaders to role model them consistently

Your employees and your customers will certainly notice whether you are living your brand from the inside out or not.  After all, every interaction that your customers have with your team has the potential to elevate or destroy their connection with your brand and, therefore, turn them into detractors or raving fans. 

In the first instance of this series, we broke down more effective meetings. This time, we will talk all about just that — talking! Many people muse about the difficulty of having effective challenging conversations.

This can be as simple as telling the truth with honesty and respect, and sharing ideas without fear of reprisal or being written off as unrealistic or too “soft”. In order to have productive conversations, where everyone is present in mind, body, and spirit, we need to get to a dynamic that changes everything.

The quality of our communication and conversations has an impact on the quality of our meetings, decisions, and implementation. How? Read along!

First of all, let me introduce you to the I-WE-It model.

We are always meeting because we want to achieve something (IT). And whatever we are doing, we need to do it together. Plus, this might not be the last time!

So, remember: every conversation is an opportunity to increase or decrease trust (we) and to feel better (or not) about ourselves in the process. The more you create a virtuous circle, the more effective you will be.

The first step, before even beginning to deliver the content or topic of conversation, is to create the connection and context (who, why, and where). We need to connect with people there so that everyone can more quickly listen to others and express their concerns and ideas.

That way, even if there is a disagreement, everyone can feel like they are in it together. At the “We” level, any conversation is an opportunity to increase trust and collaboration. That way, no matter what the outcome, people can feel connected, respected and empowered.

At the “I” level, it is checking into whether we feel valued and that we can grow and express who we are. This can even be applied to solo time — what is the quality of the conversations you have with yourself?

Sacrificing the “I” or “We” for the short-term “It” creates an unhealthy dynamic, and if there is no inbuilt trust then for the next conversation and negotiation we might need to have sooner than later. It is important also to remember that we cannot control the appearance of thoughts, emotions, and feelings — these just “happen”.

If we voice them literally, we can unintentionally escalate conflict, hurt relationships, and feel bad. If we don’t voice them or tell a “cosmetic” truth, we never address the real problem. The relationship is hollowed and we keep the toxins without ourselves. Often the task is negatively impacted as well — and worse, the “I” energy leaks out anyway. The only way through (and the most effective short and long-term) is to have an authentic conversation. So what does that entail?

Having Authentic Effective Conversations

First, understand that the only reason you have a toxic thought is because something that you care about feels at risk. Once you have acknowledged a toxic thought, you have 3 options:

  • Spill it out (just say it). This is the reactive level — our first reaction.
  • Swallow it (don’t say it). This is the superficial level — what we want others to think about us.
  • Distill it (transform the toxicity into a learning opportunity). This is the core truth — who we really are; our true BE-ing.
effective conversations

Underlying reactivity, there is something of value that is at stake. In order to distill your core truth, you need to ask yourself:

  • What really matters to me?
  • Why is this a concern to me?
  • What is at stake for me?
  • What do I really want?

The core truth is always honesty and respect. Try out these practices above, and watch how much more effective your communication becomes — through the quality of outcomes of conversations, and the quality of your relationships.

How many of us wish we had more productive, effective hours in a day?

From my conversations with leaders around the globe, I gather probably all. That said, there are some very simple things each of us as leaders do every day, that if done more effectively, could free up immense amounts of time and energy.

This series will dive deeper into four areas that we are actually practicing every single day of our lives, that if improved, could increase the quality of all things we do at work.

And through this, it can lessen workload, improve productivity, and empower others. Without further ado, these four things are:

  • meetings,
  • conversations,
  • decisions,
  • and implementation.

Did you realize that every day, we are in a meeting, and/or having a conversation with someone or ourselves, or making a decision (or judging one that was made by someone?) or implementing something (with less or more will and energy)?

productivity habits for better meetings

Let’s start with the one we most feel trapped in at almost 8hs a day: meetings. Through implementing the practices we discuss, you will improve your capacity to be in the right meeting, with the right setting, for the right reason… or decide not to be there consciously!

These facts and figures are pretty staggering, and illustrate just how important this topic is:

  • Employees in upper management spend 50% of their time in meetings.
  • Research suggests that employees spend 4 hours per week preparing for status update meetings.
  • A recent survey found that 67% of employees complain that spending too much time in meetings hinders them from being productive at work.
  • More than 35% of employees found that they waste 2-5 hours per day on meetings and calls, but achieve nothing to show for it.

First, make sure you design the agenda strategically to justify the investment of time you and other people will be making: choose the right topics, information, and people needed, and align time per topics and dynamics to achieve what you want.

3 Types of Meetings

It is important to note that there are really only 3 types of necessary meetings — to inform (to seek understanding), to discuss/debate (to gather input), and to decide (to choose between two or more options), but usually, the one calling the meeting does not clarify this upfront.

When this happens… can you make sure you ask for this to be clarified before starting? After understanding the intention of the meeting, it is key to understand if your participation is truly necessary or important. Many people end up in meetings without knowing why they are there, and without their presence really being needed. Do I need this information? Is my input needed? Do I need to be part of this decision?

Next, check in and align intentions to ensure that people are present and connected to each other, and to clarify what the goal of the meeting is. Clarify the expected outcome for each topic on the agenda, and explain to people how they could effectively participate. Now it’s time to deep dive into the content.

Make sure you agree on commitments and the next steps before leaving each section of the agenda. Close out the meeting with a “check out” and capture key actions and learnings for the next one.

From the outset, it is important to confirm that the meeting is truly necessary. If the purpose is to inform, clarify if it could have just been an email. If discussion, don’t spend 90% of the meeting just talking about things without any structure or intention. If the meeting is for decision-making, make sure everyone knows how the decision will be made before you engage in the discussion.

5 Key Habits for Effective Meetings

Lastly, there are 5 key behavioral habits for effective meetings:

  • Be a player, speak in 1st person: when sharing your perspective and opinions, own them to make them more relevant and clearer.
  • Be a learner, ask clarifying questions (before sharing opinions): before you make someone “wrong”, seek to understand through thoughtful questions.
  • Reflect back: make sure whoever has just spoken feels understood before sharing your own perspective.
  • Make clear requests: if you have a need, express the request to the right person in a clear and straightforward manner.
  • Give acceptable responses to requests: A response could be acceptance, asking for clarification before accepting, or saying no while explaining why you cannot commit to it — and discussing other possibilities if needed.

Try these out, and watch how much more effective your meetings become. In the next piece of this series, we will discuss decision-making.

Stefaan van Hooydonk, Founder of The Global Curiosity Institute, sat down with Axialent‘s Anabel Dumlao and internationally experienced CHRO Niklas Lindholm to explore how curiosity in leadership creates successful cultures. In this talk, they explored a variety of topics relating to curiosity in the workplace including leadership, high performance, and culture.  

The Case for Curiosity 

It is no longer a well-kept secret that mindset shifts that tap into curiosity, such as from a knower to a learner mindset, are particularly effective in the business world of today. According to the Harvard Business Review: “New research reveals that fostering curiosity has a wide range of benefits for organizations, leaders, and employees.” These benefits include:

  • Fewer decision-making errors. 
  • More innovation and positive changes in both creative and noncreative jobs. 
  • Reduced group conflict. 
  • More open communication and better team performance. 

Stefaan spoke about the correlation between curiosity and leadership. Curiosity is often taken for granted, but extremely important strategically. Often, companies start on a high note and are innovative, but after a while, if they have experienced success, they become less curious and take things for granted.

They think they are in control, and start to operate more or less on autopilot and copy the formulas for success that worked in the past. Companies like Blockbuster, Toys R Us, and Kodak are all examples of companies that were trying very hard to replicate the past – and were not ready when their industries changed. 

The question then arises, do organizations kill curiosity themselves? As start-ups maybe not, but once they scale, it seems so. According to research by the Global curiosity institute: 

  • Leaders are twice as ready to say their organization supports curiosity in comparison to the people who report to them 
  • After 3 years in the same role, the curiosity of an employee diminishes 
  • Middle-level managers are about four times less positive about curiosity compared to team leads or senior executives 
  • 24% of people regularly feel less curious at work 
Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

Learning about Curiosity 

Depending on the company and its culture, there can be a little more attraction or distraction related to curiosity. Before the 1950s, curiosity had a very negative connotation. It was only later that curiosity was linked to science, discovery, and exploration. Stefaan’s definition of curiosity is: “Curiosity is the mindset to challenge the status quo, explore, discover, and learn.” It may take time for people to be encouraged to think about how much it is a good versus a negative thing.  

Dimensions for curiosity include:  

  • Cognitive curiosity – “the world” – (resulting in innovation and creativity) 
  • Interpersonal curiosity – “others” – (leading to empathy) 
  • Intrapersonal curiosity – “ourselves” – (igniting resilience and self-awareness) 

Stefaan explained that the opposite of curiosity is conformity, which is always a base position. Conformity “tries to keep us in the status quo, and prefers a comfortable past over an uncertain future”. The predictability makes us feel good and gives us a sense of being in control.

This is not to say that it is unnecessary. Individuals and companies do need a sense of predictability. It becomes a danger, however, when we start losing awareness of conformity and don’t marry it with curiosity. The ideal situation is somewhere in the middle allowing for both.

Curiosity in a Fast-Changing Business World 

The case has become clearer out of COVID. We are realizing that some of the ideas we had are not relevant anymore, or are only partially relevant. Curiosity is especially important nowadays because company environments are changing all the time. 

While 90% of leaders now believe investing in curiosity is worthwhile, in practice, 50% say spending time focusing on curiosity could distract from priorities. Leadership is an important activator for curiosity in teams. Often, managers don’t realize the shadow they cast on the team. Poor leaders stifle curiosity, but great leaders who are intentionally curious uplift the team by encouraging them to follow their own behaviors.  

One simple way to increase curiosity is to ask for reverse feedback. According to a study by the Global Curiosity institute, 23% of first-line people managers ask subordinates how they are doing themselves while only 46% of middle managers do. 

Reverse feedback is a beautiful gift for a manager to give to themselves. Asking the open question of “how am I doing?” can be frightening. The more a manager says he or she does not know, the more respect they get. In many cultures, the idea is that being paid more means you must have more of the answers. You don’t have to. Inviting the team to come up with a solution together empowers them.  

Companies that embrace a culture of openness are outperforming their peers (ex. Microsoft). They transformed their culture through: 

  • A focus on workplace curiosity 
  • Switching from a culture of “know it all” to “learn it all” 
  • A willingness to embrace a growth mindset and explore biases 
  • Nonviolent communication 

Many other companies are also embedding curiosity at the level of corporate values as a guiding principle. For example:

  • Pepsi: Project marketplace inviting employees to apply to join limited-time projects in other departments.
  • McKinsey & Company: focus on the value of “Obligation to dissent” for all their employees.
  • Xicato: sales teams are incentivized to sell new products with a higher commission, enabling them to look for new markets.
  • Google: With the “20% project”, Google is allowing employees to spend 20% of their time working on passion projects to keep the spirit of innovation alive.
  • Fiskars: Leadership development is primarily structured around self-exploration of one’s own purpose and clarification of one’s individual values.
Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

Fostering Curiosity in Individuals, Teams, and Organizations

Stefaan described the difference between A-players and B-players, and how it actually pertains to curiosity. A-players harbor intentional curiosity. These are people who don’t necessarily need training because they are always ahead of the game. They learn and read more, have humility, and are not afraid to not “know” and to seek knowledge. They don’t just learn in their own specialty area but expand to grow in other intersectional areas. 

B-players want to learn and grow but have lost something along the way in their childhood or work that has stopped them from continuing to learn. Managers say they want A-players, but a lot of times they settle for B-players and don’t want people who stick out their necks and challenge the status quo. Other managers really welcome such employees. Curious organizations need curious employees.

Niklas spoke to the importance of creating a psychologically safe environment in order to have a curious organization or team. People need to feel that there are safe spaces for them to express ideas, and to fail. This requires a level of inclusive leadership.  

Dictatorial leaders will not allow new ideas. At the heart of inclusive leadership is coaching, which is very connected to curiosity. Coaching facilitates getting the right questions on the table.  

He also shared that it is important as a company from the onset to have curiosity embedded into its strategy, mission, purpose, and values. This will remind employees to stay curious, and connect curiosity to all the activities that are happening. It is extremely important to stay transparent in order to spark interest and adoption of the plans. 

It may be helpful to rank values according to which ones are actually being lived by. Curiosity might actually be the lowest if companies have the greatest difficulty delivering on it. Once awareness is there, figure out what you can do about it. Brainstorming techniques to increase curiosity don’t take a long time. You don’t have to go to the forest to have new ideas — it can be as simple as a 60–90-minute exercise. 

Ultimately, Niklas shared that exploration is one of the best outcomes of curiosity. This pertains to the external culture, where people are exploring and understanding what’s happening outside with the market and customers. It is important to put emphasis on the external world. Companies that are too internally focused start dying.  

Anabel spoke to symbols in culture, and how important they can be in highlighting what is important and valued in an organization. When it comes to curiosity, do leaders dedicate time toward it? If it’s not on their agenda, it is telling the message that leadership doesn’t truly value it. It also shows through role modeling – do managers listen to fix or to learn? Do people come out of meetings with leaders alive and energized, or is it the other way around?

Increasing Curiosity 

Curiosity can be baselined and treated scientifically. We are starting to see companies that are measuring and realizing where they actually are by being intentional about curiosity.

3 concepts to embrace to get better at curiosity:

  • Awareness – how aware are you of how you are showing up as a leader? 
  • Intentionality – in adopting and inviting curiosity 
  • Measurement – there are now a number of assessment tools that you can explore

The Global Curiosity Institute scored several multinational companies on 9 dimensions of environmental curiosity, and their research shed light on aspects where there is still room for improvement. The top 3 distractors below are where companies wanting to remove limiting barriers to curiosity should focus their enhancement efforts.

Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

Top 3 distractors from curiosity: 

  • Internal processes and practices 
  • Innovation mindset (including acceptance of failure) 
  • Culture of openness 

Curiosity is a powerful concept that has, in a way, molded humanity’s path through innovation and industrial revolutions. To learn more about this concept, watch the entire webinar below or get in touch with our experts.

About the Author: Stefaan van Hooydonk is the founder of the Global Curiosity Institute & Business Council Member of Axialent. This article is a shorter version of a dedicated chapter on curiosity and leadership in his book: The Workplace Curiosity Manifesto.

It is hard to be a good leader — whether the source of leadership is being an executive, running a country, or being a frontline manager. It is also hard to find good leaders. An extensive 2015 internal study of twenty thousand executive placements was conducted by the executive search firm Heidrich and Struggles. The study revealed that 40 percent of these newly appointed executives fail within eighteen months.

Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

A failure means the executive left, was asked to leave or was performing significantly below expectations. Consistent with data from other research in subsequent years, the success of executive appointments was no better than 50 percent. Executive recruitment seems to be a hit-or-miss activity. Candidates have an equal chance to succeed or fail.

The challenges managers face today are less predictable than they were in the last century. Solutions to problems are not so easily found in previous successes. The power to effect change requires more gentle influence than formal top-down authority. Especially now, leadership is ambidextrous. Leaders need to be good at keeping their ship afloat while, at the same time, reinventing the future. 

Curiosity in its various dimensions is well suited to assist leaders to widen their perspectives, listening intently, engage new challenges, experimenting, learning faster, and building organizations that create results in times of crisis.

What is a curious leader?

In a cross-industry curiosity study led by curiosity researcher Todd Kashdan commissioned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, professor Kashdan posits several curiosity barriers associated with leaders.

  • Autocratic, top-down leadership behavior stifles curiosity as curious subordinates are not provided with the opportunity to question or challenge decisions, nor are they invited to explore and share novel options.  
  • The prevalence of risk-averse behavior makes leaders opt for proven and safe ideas, thus restricting creative thinking time.  
  • A preference for conformity and fear of standing out from others among managerial peers.  

The above points already highlight a number of dimensions explaining incurious leadership behavior. What becomes clear is leadership positions are sensitive to the nature/nurture divide. Leaders show up with their own level of curiosity, yet simultaneously are also adapting their individual inclination for curiosity to the context they are in.

An interesting finding in the research is that when a CEO displays a healthy dose of curiosity, the company benefits both in terms of an increase in operational efficiency as well as an above openness to exploring new territories.

When the CEO, or the team leader for that matter, is high on curiosity, the members of the organization are more likely to agree with the statement that the organization encourages curiosity. This does not mean employees at all levels of the organization automatically feel encouraged and enabled to show up curiously at work.

Next to being role models, leaders also need to establish habits and interactions, so employees are reassured curiosity is not reserved for people at the top.

Curiosity needs champions. The shadow the manager casts is an important driver of team curiosity. In my research, I have established a linear correlation between the number of hours a manager spends on the acquisition of new information and knowledge through reading books or articles, viewing educational videos and taking (e-) classes, listening to podcasts or e-books, and so on.

The more the manager consumes new knowledge, the more the team also follows in the curious behavioral footsteps of the leader. As a result, there is an increase in the hours the team spends on learning to mimic those of the leader. Intuitively this makes sense.

When the manager is curious herself, she will—openly or not—make it clear she values new knowledge in the team. The team will recognize that learning and intellectual exploration are important and will follow her example.  

The inverse is sadly also true. If a manager does not communicate in words or—more importantly in actions—that learning is important, the team refrains from consuming learning. Luckily, not all team members mimic the manager’s learning habits.

Some of them—the A players—are intrinsically so curious, that even a non-conducive environment does not stop them from exploring. A-players are not negatively influenced by the behavior of their leader. In summary, curious managers uplift the team and stretch it beyond what they thought was feasible. Incurious managers, on the other hand, stifle the team and hold it back.

Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

A 2018 study of three thousand international employees conducted by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino disclosed the implications of workplace curiosity and the corresponding leadership support for curiosity. She states curiosity is an important aspect of a company’s performance because of the following reasons:  

  1. When curiosity is triggered, leaders tend to be more intentional and rational about their decision-making.
  2. Curiosity makes leaders—and their teams—more adaptable to the dynamics of uncertain market environments.
  3. Curious leaders command higher levels of respect of their followers than incurious leaders.

Workplace curiosity works in real-time. When leaders are more curious and invite surprise about everyday activities, the more it has a carry-over effect on team members.  

However, when studying the above-mentioned Harvard Business School research on how leaders viewed curiosity, Professor Francesca Gino found: “Although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact, most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency”.  

On the one hand, executives realize the underlying importance of curiosity in helping to implement their firm’s strategy agenda when it comes to product and services innovation, outwitting competition, winning deals, and taking calculated risks in the pursuit of novel and creative outcomes, etc. On the other hand, these same executives are rejecting curiosity as something which goes against the grain of operational efficiency of the organization or that of their team.  

A crucial misconception is that curiosity will naturally occur in any reasonably healthy workplace. In fact, curious work environments are rare. They require deliberate and consistent action. Here are some steps to help you as a leader promote a more curious work environment:

  • Put curiosity on the team agenda.
  • Show up as an all-around curious individual interested in the world, the people around you, and yourself.
  • Ask for (reverse) feedback.
  • Become aware of your question strategies. Are they open-ended or closed?
  • Baseline your own curiosity as well as that of the team.
  • Identify barriers to curiosity in the team, create quick wins and build on their success. Ask the team how they can help in creating a curious environment.

Do try out the above steps and explore on your own how curiosity can lead to building more successful and better performing organizational cultures. 

I invite you to become aware of how you show up as a leader. Are you showing up with curiosity or with judgment? Are you listening to fix or are you listening to learn? Are you projecting yourself a personal desire for continuous learning and growth or not (what type of questions do you allow in your team meetings; questions that confirm what you know already or questions that challenge the status quo)?

These questions will help you become aware of your own curiosity level, trigger you to make curiosity at work intentional, and help you start measuring progress.   

Welcome to the community of curious leaders. Watch the full webinar here.

I have a dream, and its name is Conscious Kids! And I want us to dream together. With my colleagues at Axialent, I work with great business and people leaders around the world. Fundamentally, we help build conscious cultures and coach leaders to successfully run conscious businesses. I love what I do. I really do it out of passion, and I am rewarded by the outstanding impact this work has on individuals and organizations. And yet, I feel there is so much more that can be done to foster consciousness in our ecosystems. 

A few months ago, at an Axialent Board meeting in Barcelona, I had some sort of revelation: we could also support the leaders of tomorrow – our kids! This revelation made me feel 30 years younger, made my eyes shine, and filled me with renewed energy…and a new sense of noble purpose. I began my work toward this by preparing a series of videos where I addressed what conscious kids means concretely, how we could impact kids around the world, and how to make this revelation real.  

conscious kids

When discussing “kids”, I am referring to potentially three different groups: children ages 7-12, teenagers 13-17, and those preparing to enter their adult and professional life. 

In the first phase of these videos, I addressed the what (help kids raise their consciousness so that they are the owners of their lives), the why (our kids’ freedom of mind is at risk), and the how (to raise our kids’ consciousness and be the owners of their future).  

The what of conscious kids is the DNA so to speak. It is helping kids to become: 

  • The player, rather than the victim of their life 
  • A learner, rather than a typical teenager pretending to know everything 
  • A master of their emotions, rather than being controlled by them 
  • Someone who thinks for themselves, rather than just as they are told to think 
  • Someone who speaks their truth constructively without the fear of avoiding confrontation or conflict and without disrespecting the opinions of others. 

The why of conscious kids is somewhat obvious, yet under-addressed. Kids are facing many challenges today for which they are not prepared. There are more and more challenges coming up that nobody but themselves will have to manage individually and collectively.

As adults, we don’t yet know the solutions to the unique challenges they will face. But it is our job to prepare and empower them. As I see it, our children are endangered by three key phenomena:  

  • Social networks, which are based on algorithms that create circular thinking. Social networks do not only tell us what to think but also unconsciously how to think and what relationships to have or not to have with others. These are all the opposite of critical thinking, and of thinking for oneself.   
  • A dramatic polarization of opinions towards the extremes, which divides people within the same family, community, and country in an increasingly violent and lack of respect for others ‘world. Kids need to discover and master polarity thinking that is not taught at school. 
  • The meteoric arrival of the metaverse will immerse us — our kids first — in a world of virtual and augmented realities. Once again, for the better and for the worse. The metaverse, together with artificial intelligence and transhumanism, is revamping the notion of life and of WHO we are. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have already evidenced how virtual worlds in some video games are leading our kids to face serious risks of loss of identity, confusion about reality, and what the sense of life is — not to mention the risks of manipulation and brainwashing in virtual reality worlds. The metaverse could also be a world of opportunities for the best — if we infuse it with consciousness and mindfulness.  

One thing for example that is of major concern, I think, is the relationship our kids should consciously build with their AI avatar(s): The avatar is their self-representation / projection in the virtual worlds. We need to help them decide and define how this avatar could be their own hero: a hero who can help them become the best version of themselves in real life, and NOT a confusing chimera of someone they are not and should never be. 

My fourth video on conscious kids was a very early reflection on how we can help kids raise their consciousness and be the owners of their life and future. A couple of possibilities include:  

  • A community-based learning & development program where kids will learn from each other, from their parents, from teachers, psychologists, therapists, and pediatricians, from their sports coach, from universities, from corporate foundations, and from all kinds of educational governmental agencies and NGOs — with the support of high-tech companies through strategic alliances. 
  • Gamification — through the investigation of how kids of different ages learn, providing video games, sports, art, and/or physical projects that are tailored to raising consciousness. 

Our aim is to become a marketplace and connector, leveraging the ecosystem of private and public initiatives around the world for raising our kids’ mindfulness, and their ability to make this world a better place for them and for others. 

Take a look at my series of videos about Conscious Kids:

Watch my entire series of videos about Conscious Kids!

At this stage I have three key inferences to be validated or not as we are confronted by realities in our experience: 

  • The ways kids learn and develop are obviously different from how we structure L&D programs for adults — and the way kids will learn & develop in the coming years and decades will be completely different from what it is today. Their world is changing dramatically at a pace that we adults might not even be able to imagine. 
  • Kids and their education are our future: I don’t know how yet, but I intuit that the kids themselves will be the masters of this game. They will tell us, we will learn from them, and they will make us grow. We will not be the teachers — just enablers, facilitators, and coaches. What a shift of paradigm in our education approach!  
  • Likewise, with AI and the metaverse we really need to figure out how together, kids and adults, we will shape the world and the life we want. 

The next step in this exciting journey is to develop the how suite further. Stay tuned for further videos in our next phase, towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to this journey ahead, and hope you are with us! 

Teryluz Andreu, Axialent Partner & Culture Expert, and Ginger Hardage, Founder of Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship & Former SVP of Culture and Communication of Southwest Airlines, engaged in an interactive forum discussing how leaders can create and sustain cultures of enduring greatness within their organization.

Ginger retired from Southwest Airlines after an illustrious 25 years and created The Unstoppable Cultures Fellowship. UCF lives on as The Fellowship (which Axialent has the privilege of partnering with this year), a four-day masterclass helping you build a captivating culture that your customers can’t resist and your employees refuse to leave.

Ginger Hardage Unstoppable cultures

Ginger and Teryluz began their discussion by listing the three most common pitfalls organizations run into during their pursuit of cultural transformation and advice on how you can address them.

  1. Leadership is not on the same page. It is critical for leadership to be on the same page when trying to evolve their organizational culture. Alignment amongst the leadership team on what kind of culture they desire, how they will drive it, and what commitments they are willing to make is vital. If misalignment occurs within leadership, it will not only be noticed internally but externally as well.
  2. Lack of processes and discipline. Cultural transformation is not a one-and-done project. It requires time, processes to support the change, ongoing communication, and discipline in follow-through. Too often, organizations underestimate the rigorous processes and disciplines needed after launching cultural initiatives and don’t make the necessary investments to drive sustainable change.
  3. Lack of employee involvement. It is important to understand employees’ thoughts and perspectives before making organizational changes. Often, organizations do not listen to their employees’ pain points and roadblocks, which slows efforts down the road. When employees are involved from the start, it creates a sense of ownership and shared responsibility to overcome barriers and see transformational change.

Ginger and Teryluz shared some insights on actions that we can take to address (or even better, avoid) these challenges. It all starts with two key steps: Define and Demonstrate.

  • Define. Have open conversations with your team about these key questions: Where do we want to go? Who do we want to be? What do we need to protect? What do we need to evolve? Teryluz mentioned that this step is a great opportunity to find creative ways to make everyone in the organization a part of the cultural conversation.

For this to work, senior leaders need to have a vision of where they need to go, but also have the courage to seek understanding. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, these leaders need humility to let go of any preconceived notions on what needs to change. Understanding the current culture from employees’ point of view will help inform what key shifts need to be made culturally.

  • Demonstrate. Help leaders walk the talk. When it comes to demonstration and changing culture, Ginger outlined a few key things leaders should address:
    • Culture is everyone’s job.” The most effective efforts involve all departments, not just the typical communications and HR-driven initiatives. If all leaders aren’t living the values and modeling the desired behaviors the desired outcome will not be achieved.
    • For culture to change, leaders may need to change. Leaders must reflect on how they need to change, not just the organization. It’s critical to provide safe spaces for leaders to gain self-awareness on how they need to improve their own mindsets and behaviors to align with the new ways of working.
    • Never underestimate the power of storytelling and leadership visibility. In the era of social media, people are used to the continuous flow of communication and increased accessibility. Engaging in conversations about the what, why, and how of the organization’s cultural initiatives has to be a constant process across multiple channels. To be authentic, leaders need to find what approach works for them, understand what is most engaging for their internal audiences, and establish a cadence to keep the dialogue going.

Even the best laid-out strategies can get stuck or go off the rails. Ginger and Teryluz offered some ideas on what to do if you feel stuck in your culture journey.

Watch the entire webinar now! Click here.

  • State the need for change. Tie the need for change to your business strategy and priorities. Ginger encouraged organizations to look at their “return on culture” like other ROI challenges. How can culture drive your business at the enterprise level? It’s essential to clearly articulate how the lack of change will impact employees.
  • Give a cross-section of leaders the responsibility to lead culture. Too often, change is only driven through the HR lens, which can be limiting. It takes a cross-section of people to solve problems and help initiatives get unstuck.
  • Don’t be too prescriptive. Let people serve the organization in the way that works best for them. Model employee empowerment and involve people in creating solutions for problems they care about.

Like any strategic change initiative, cultural transformation requires a clear vision, discipline in execution, agility to adapt to circumstances, dedication to overcome obstacles, and a great deal of resilience.

Let’s allow this journey to be an opportunity to evolve as people as we transform our organizations.

In today´s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and BANI (brittle, anxious, nonlinear, incomprehensible) world, our capacity to face challenges and respond effectively is key for sustained performance.  

Among the key capabilities required to navigate in this context is empowerment. 

I understand empowerment as: “The process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you”. 

So, fostering a culture of empowerment is about helping others connect with their own possibility of making things happen and driving actions towards a vision.  

We cannot “empower others”, but we can invite others to take ownership by creating the right container. People must step into their own power and ability to impact. 

Empowerment accelerates growth and leads to faster decision-making. Agile organizations that enable innovation lead to satisfied clients with high-quality products and fulfilled employees.  

Unlike autocratic leadership, a culture of empowerment encourages people to play to their strengths, grow and develop, and build self-confidence. It brings out the best in people in service of a higher purpose.  

How cultures of empowerment accelerate growth

In a culture of empowerment: 

  • people work with autonomy and with a sense of purpose (goal-directed actions). 
  • day to day decisions with a clear intent and communication are pushed downwards to ensure faster decision-making and agility. 
  • decisions are based on facts vs opinions. 
  • accountability is the other side of the coin; with greater power comes greater responsibility. 
  • leaders promote high support and high delegation.   
  • trust is the cornerstone. 

What are some of the common challenges in building a culture of empowerment? 

  1. Fear of failure: One of the most common challenges is fear of failure. In an attempt to mitigate this fear, leaders begin to micromanage others and try to control them step by step to ensure the outcome they are hoping for. This kills empowerment and innovation and causes people to feel disengaged because their creativity is being suppressed. 
  1. Lack of purpose and direction:  not setting clear guardrails of the impact we are looking for will end up in people feeling lost and with a sense of meaninglessness at work. Connecting our work with a higher purpose fuels engagement and provides guidance as a headlight. 
  1. Opposing to others’ voices and ideas: killing peoples’ ideas before they are even born is a fast segway to building an evasive and risk-averse culture with people laying low to avoid being pointed out or criticized. 
  1. Watering down accountability: leaders are responsible for creating a high trust and high support environment to drive empowerment and high accountability in their team. They set the behavioral standards that are required in the organization, they live by example, and they demand others to do the same. Holding each other accountable in each other’s roles is crucial to building this type of culture.  

In the words of Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” We can build a culture of empowerment by aligning the leaders’ behaviors, systems, and symbols of the organization to reflect empowerment fully. 

These are some essential steps we need to consider: 

  1. Leading like a coach: Leaders don´t tell others what to do, they help people come up with their own answers. They support the team to open newly unthought-of possibilities and push them forward. They know their team members, are confident in what they can bring up together, and provide enough space for people to try new things, learn and become the best version of themselves. They establish clear boundaries and set the standards by role modeling. 
  1. Creating a psychological safety and trusting environment: We all need to feel safe to fail, learn and continue improving. Bringing our whole selves to work is still a challenge in many organizations. If we are living in fear of criticism or retaliation, we will hold back, and not be able to push the limits of our creativity and help the organization find new heights.   
  1. Developing feedback as a habit on your team: Having honest conversations on a recurrent basis about what has worked and what needs to be addressed in the future is needed to fuel empowerment and grow accountability. We can all easily fall into a pattern of not sharing feedback and allowing small resentments to grow over time. It takes some intentionality to do this, and a process, until it becomes a habit — it does not just happen on its own.  
  1. Shifting into a player and growth mindset: Focusing on the things that we can control and approaching our challenges as an opportunity to continue learning and growing provides us with the energy and right attitude to sit in the driver’s seat of our life and own our power to change the things we need to. 
  1. Acting courageously: Is about showing up and doing our best in congruency with our values and being detached from the potential outcome.  It takes courage to take each of these steps. There is a reason that cultures of empowerment are few and far in between at times. It can be a difficult process to begin and to work through all the barriers, but has exponentially positive results.  

Fear-based cultures constrain results by maintaining the status quo, causing people to feel to disconnected from the organization, and limiting innovation and engagement through command and control strategies. Victimhood arises, and people tend to blame others to survive and prevail in the system — while avoiding taking risks. 

Instead, a culture of empowerment brings out the best in people by unlocking their potential, increasing performance, promoting doing things well, and establishing trusted relationships with others. It is a key lever to drive sustainable growth.