How to Develop a Leadership Mind: Adapt and Be Curious

Posted by on Feb 5, 2018

People who study how people learn, cognition researchers, are worried. Our educational system is not developing and preparing today’s young adults for the work and leadership challenges of the 21st Century. How should we train ourselves to think, to correctly learn about the world, to be a Healthy Leader?
Learn How to Push Your Mind to Develop

Linear thinking is out. Business is too complex today. Intellectual health is the antidote to this complexity. Seeing connections, patterns and the web-like processes of problems is how you need to train your mind. Healthy leaders understand this. And they possess three features of intellectual health — deep curiosity, an adaptive mindset and paradoxical thinking. To be successful in an ever-changing environment, you have to adapt… to new ways of working, learning, doing business, communicating, etc. In order to adapt, it is critical that you have mechanisms for obtaining information. You have to actively search for sources of information that will help you grow and develop. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will make you a Healthy Leader.

Really, just be curious: about how things work, about the people you work with, about how to get better as a leader, about what is actually going on around you. Let’s take a look at an excellent example from nature…

The Waggle Dance

Honeybees have a fabulous mechanism to learn about the external world. They have built into their world the Forager. Honeybee foragers are the sensory units of the hives. Their job is to gather information about the location and profitability of forage sites. They then return to the hive and transmit the information to the other honeybees by means of the waggle dance. To keep the hive alive, the system has built in curiosity as a job function. Among the forager bees, most are exploiters of old sources of food. Only 10% of foragers are explorers or scouts looking for new discoveries (Wisdom of the Hive by Thomas Seeley). PBS did a good show on the waggle dance called Dances with Bees. It really is amazing to see the social physiology of the honeybee.

Healthy leaders are similar to the Forager. And they develop the capacity to do the waggle dance.

Are you doing the Waggle Dance?

You should spend 10% of your work week being curious – to explore, to scan your work or business environment, to get a sense of what is happening/changing, so you can adapt to changes coming your way rather than be obliterated by change.

Social media and the internet make it incredibly easy to do this. But it can also be overwhelming; too much info dumping. So get an RSS feed aggregator, comb through sources of information (blogs, websites, Twitter) that you find the most informative, select the best to subscribe to and carve out a part of your day getting informed.

Take our Intellectual Health assessment. Regularly checking yourself will ensure you are expanding your mental range. It will also help block any mental sabotaging you may be inflicting on yourself when things get tough.

“The most common reason we shut down our curiosity is that we are simply running too fast. We don’t take the time out of our busy lives to be curious – to stop and take a breath, to read an article or book, to take a day off to reflect, to get a coach, or to simply ask a question rather than rush in with the answer.” Excerpt from Bob Rosen’s book, Grounded: how leaders stay rooted in an uncertain world.

Commit to developing your Intellectual Health and you will have a beautiful 21st century mind!

First published in Jossey-Bass Business Leader, July 2, 2013.