A Curious New Year

January 10th, 2022 | Leadership
A Curious New Year

Guest Post by TD Smyers

The most thorough and genuine way a leader puts questions to work is by letting them spring naturally from the crucial, but rare, trait of authentic curiosity.

My wife Barbara set this post in motion when she happened across something in my line of work last week while watching woodworking videos. “Hey, John Maxwell has a new podcast on the value of questions.” As a John Maxwell Team guy, she knew I’d appreciate the observation. I fired up my laptop while the morning coffee brewed then, with a steaming cup and high expectations, I sat down and pulled it up.

After the initial setup by host Mark Cole, Maxwell lays out a pretty basic, but profound concept:

“Behind every problem, every lesson, every threshold of your leadership is a great question that needs to be answered. But … you only get answers to the questions you ask.” John Maxwell

Maxwell goes on to share how he learned to start asking more questions early in his career, as well as what leadership looks like with and without great questions. It’s a great lesson, as you might expect from Maxwell. In fact, reading it inspired me to go deeper into this crucial leadership skill with some context and “how to”.

Sure, it’s easy enough to explain why asking questions before offering answers is the better approach, fostering a more comprehensively informed result as well as better teamwork. And it’s maybe only a little more difficult to describe ways to establish this desirable leadership behavior as a new habit. But all of this is really just describing the tail without acknowledging the dog that wags it. The most thorough and genuine way for a leader to put questions to work is by letting them spring naturally from the crucial, but rare, trait of authentic curiosity.

a strong desire to know or learn something.

Oxford Dictionary

We put a high priority on curiosity at Simple Leadership Strategies. In fact, we spend a good deal time on the subject in our Transformational Leader/Manager™️ Experience workshops when we explore gaining confidence through competence, achieving a high degree of emotional intelligence and motivating people through inspiration. Curiosity is basic to authenticity, inclusivity, teamwork and trust.

You: “OK, ‘Got it! But how do I add authentic curiosity to my toolbox if I haven’t really cared up to this point?”

Us: “Great question. Like pretty much everything else in leadership, your expression of curiosity will either yield results or fall flat based on the trust you’ve already built with your team.”

You: “Oh. OK. Well … bye.”

Wait! Not so fast! There’s good news! Curiosity isn’t just a coveted leadership trait, it’s also a great way to accelerate the trust building process.

… AND you can learn it.

It’s a fundamental belief of mine that leadership is more art than science. That said, here three specific strokes you can learn to help paint curiosity into your leadership style and team culture. Try picturing each as you would practice it.

  1. Be Humble

Humility is among the most respected, yet least practiced, of all leader traits. EVERY top dog who enjoys the (real) trust of their team has a healthy dose of humility present in their leadership DNA. To build trust through curiosity, intentionally put your pride to the side and stumble into some humble.

  1. Be Open

If you already think you have all the answers, any questions you ask run the very real risk of coming off shallow and patronizing … because they will actually BE shallow and patronizing. Even if you’re the team expert on a subject, it’s a virtual certainty you don’t know everything about it.

Really. Just ask your spouse.

Open the door to learn something new today. Through that same door will trot an opportunity for someone else to deliver the next brilliant thought or the answer to that riddle the team has been struggling with for days.

  1. Be Appreciative

You can’t just “be OK with” hearing from your team, You have to WANT IT. Phrase your question like you don’t already have a solution in your head and pitch it like you’ll be grateful for the response. You’ll likely be surprised as the whole is revealed to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Happy 2022! With these new tools at your disposal, a great New Year’s resolution might be to start asking questions out of authentic curiosity

… maybe even expect some answers

… maybe even earn some trust.

TD Smyers


TD Smyers is Simple Leadership Strategies‘ Chief Executive Officer. Beginning his leadership career as a US Naval Flight Officer, he led a squadron of Combat Aircrews and a joint military air base during his decorated career. After hanging up the uniform at the rank of Captain, he served as a Regional CEO for two national nonprofits and sailed the Caribbean for two years before joining SLS. He’s also a certified leadership trainer, coach and speaker.


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One thought on “A Curious New Year

  1. John Hackett says:

    Great article. In my work as a leadership trainer, speaker, and coach, I remind leaders that curiosity and questions are essential to learning . Think of ask as A.always, S seeking, K.knowledge

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