I was once a TELLaholic. I loved to tell everyone what to do. I was a sergeant major with my kids, directing them to do everything. They never had to think for themselves; my husband, likewise. As long as I was in command, I could control what they did and how they did it. I made sure they dressed in a way that reflected well on our family, what they said and how they acted showed they had manners. I was in control and I knew as long as I kept control, everything was OK.
At work I directed everyone all day. I made sure everyone did everything in the way I thought it should be done because after all, everyone should know I was effective and thus my way of doing things was the best way. My truth was the wise truth. I was an effective leader because I constantly directed everyone to do what needed to done and kept at them until I knew they had completed the tasks in a way that worked, that reflected well on me as their leader. At home and at work, if someone had a problem, even a personal one, I was able to give advice by telling them what they should, in some cases, must do.
And then one day my kids became teenagers and I noticed they seemed to tune me out. It didn't matter how often I told them what to do and how to do it, they seemed to ignore me. At work, people seemed to be transferring to other areas and I couldn't understand why. The leaders in the areas that were apparently more desirable seemed to me directionless and somewhat chaotic in their management of people. Employees were able to do work in various ways, deviating from the traditional way it had always been completed. So I thought why would people want to transfer to such dysfunctional areas? Didn't they know there was one right way to do things and I knew what that was!
I was puzzled and then came across a few leadership blogs that showed me there might be a different way to lead. Similarly, it seemed there was a different way to parent.
What was this new way? It involved understanding others by listening to their perspectives, asking questions to better understand what their ideas were and trusting them and empowering them to complete work in a way that worked for them. The articles indicated that people prefer to work more independently, developing solutions that work for them and still manage to meet the goals of the team. It seems the leader does not have to know all the answers if he or she is curious, asks questions, listens, is present and trusts employees to complete work in their own way.
Did this mean I did not need to know all the answers? What a difference this would make to my life. This means I could actually complete work that was expected of me without working 60-hour weeks. I could have more time with my family.
Meanwhile back at home, I learned I could do the same thing. My kids really like it when I listen to what they had to say, being present and focused on them without judging them or telling them what to do or how to do it. If I ask open questions, I am able to explore, discover their perspectives and better understand where they are coming from. They seem to respond well to this approach and actually sit down to have conversations with me. My husband seems very happy with the 'new' me. He jokes at times about missing me nagging him although I don't think he really does. He seems to be able to figure out how to do things on his own without me telling him what to do and how to do it. I am beginning to think maybe this telling thing is overrated.
Being curious has definitely changed things up a bit and created opportunities to better understand others, and support them in accessing their own ideas and perspectives. Being curious allows others to think for themselves, find their own solutions, solutions to which they will be held accountable. Curiosity creates freedom where one no longer needs to control everything, and it messages that one understands and believes in others. I know I feel freer, happier and much more connected to my family, my colleagues and my friends. That is the power of curiosity.
Kathy Taberner and Kirsten Taberner Siggins are the authors of The Power of Curiosity: How To Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding. Together they founded the Institute Of Curiosity, a coaching and training organization that helps individuals learn and apply the skills of curiosity to personal and professional relationships.