Leaders Don’t Lack Curiosity

by Ron Potter

“Journalists were once marked by their curiosity. Now the only thing that’s curious about many of them is their lack of curiosity when a story doesn’t fit their priors.”

That is an interesting statement by Gerard Baker in the Wall Street Journal

Change in Journalistic Standards

I once read that there was a change in our journalistic schools during the Watergate Break-in when Woodward and Bernstein worked with their secretive informant that became known as Deep Throat.   Their reporting eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.

The change at the journalism schools was described as a move from reporting the news to making the news.  The students now felt they could become the newsmakers rather than just reporters.  I believe this eventually led to Mr. Baker’s statement in the WSJ that journalists were no longer curious if the story didn’t fit their priors.

The definition in Webster’s dictionary for the word prior is: taking precedence (as in importance).  This means that a journalist’s prior belief of what is right or wrong or if it is the right agenda takes precedence over being curious.

Being curious used to be what was important to report the news.

Leadership Priors

Leaders have priors.  There are things they believe about leadership, their corporate mission, the marketplace, and many other spaces.  However, knowing that you have those beliefs and still keeping an open mind, curious about what others think or believe is the hallmark of great leadership.

Scott Fitzgerald is quoted as saying: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”   Leaders should possess first-rate intelligence.  That means that opposing thoughts may both be valid.

I believe the best leaders and leadership teams should constantly be dealing with the dilemmas they face.  As Fitzgerald says, that first-rate mind still retains the ability to function.

With dilemmas, there are no right and wrong answers.  That’s what managers are dealing with.  Leaders should be dealing with dilemmas where both answers are equally good or bad, right or wrong.  “Being on the horns of a dilemma” means that you’re going to get gored either way.  You’re just picking the horn that will or won’t gore you.

Leaders retain the ability to function even when faced with dilemmas!

Beliefs and Convictions

Our current society tries to lump us together in certain categories.  While some of us may have very similar backgrounds, we each have a different set of beliefs and convictions.

I often ran an exercise with the teams I was working with that I called “Human Beings, not Human Doings.”  At work, we’re often thought of by what we do.  But if we leave our understanding strictly on what they do, not who they are, it leads to many of the conflicts and bad feelings that can happen in the workplace.

One of the topics I’ll use in the exercise is to ask “what person and/or event has shaped who you are today?”

I grew up in a very small, homogenous, rural community in southern Michigan.  On the surface, it looks like all of my classmates came from the same mold.  But we have each been shaped by different people and events.

For instance, I grew up with a father that had lost a leg during WWII.  Of all my classmates, I was the only one with a father who only had one leg.  His hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and no complaining attitude shaped me.  I had much less patience for consulting clients who tended to whine and complain and shift the blame for their own behavior.

Because of my father, my belief was that you worked hard, did your best, and took responsibility.  I had a different experience than all my “homogenous” classmates.  And they had different experiences than I did.  We must get to know the human being, behind what they do for a living.

We are Each Unique

It’s been said that no two snowflakes are alike.  I believe that about humans as well.  As my brother and sisters and I have talked during our adult years, it’s obvious that each of them is unique and different from each other.  And yet we grew up in the same house in the same small town with exactly the same two parents.

Get to know the human beings on your team.  It will add a great deal of understanding and closeness that is needed to build great teams.

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