One simple skill that allows managers to stand tall among all others

I learned that giraffes are curious in their own environment; a stark comparison to Grace who tends to face the unknown with a false bravado. Being curious is a more productive way to face difficult situations.

The author of the book, “Giraffe Reflections” noted that a prominent characteristic of the tall animal is curiosity. Managers can stand out in a crowd when they choose this approach to face a situation — especially when they think they have all the answers. Grace is also curious, but in her fear, she often presents a false bravado. That is an understandable approach — and frequently used by unskilled managers as they try to show off their expertise. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work very well. Employees will shutdown when faced with an ongoing barrage of meaningless directives.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. Well, I suppose I should speak for myself. But I know (oops bad word choice!) that I don’t like one.

That’s why I always suggest that managers approach difficult situations with a healthy dose of curiosity. There is another excellent reason to be curious and inquiring — you might learn something.

As much as we might think we have the knowledge, expertise, and experience to provide the right direction to our employees — and perhaps we do have more of those attributes than the people we are managing — that doesn’t mean we have all the answers.

This past weekend, The Toadstool Bookshop located in Peterborough, NH, hosted author Dale Peterson to speak about his book, “Giraffe Reflections.” Imagine my delight, as a life-long collector and lover of giraffes when I saw the announcement. I couldn’t wait to go. I’ve read a lot about giraffes over the years, and even had two occasions to be up-close-and-personal with my spotted friends, both times in captivity. But I’ve never experienced them in their own habitat, which of course, is how you really could experience their natural ways.

I asked Peterson what struck him the most about the giraffe’s personality, perhaps something that surprised him. His response? Giraffes are curious!

He shared an amusing story of the difficulties he and the photographer experienced as they tried to get close to the giraffes in the African region of Namibia. These giraffes had not been around humans very much and understandably cautious, not knowing whether the humans presented a danger for them. The men tried a variety of creative ways to hide from the keen-sighted animals, but nothing worked. After many attempts and tireless days working at this, they had given up on their efforts to appear invisible. As they drove aimlessly around the desert hoping for a miracle encounter, they heard a pop-pop-pop sound and realized they had a flat tire. Another obstacle now added to their day, they got out of the vehicle and slammed the doors in frustration. Noisy tire jacks and agitated voices filled the air. The author, photographer, driver, and local guide all were boisterous as they went to work on the repairs. And to their great surprise, the giraffes came closer! The inquisitive animals, perhaps realizing that they were no longer the direct focus of the men, and likely never having seen a tire being changed before, were curious about what was going on. As they approached, the photographer was able to get the picture he had been desiring all along!

This experience shows that even when we think we know best about how to get what we want, it doesn’t always work out that way. If we’re in a situation where our frustration is mounting because we aren’t getting what we want, step back, and try a different approach. Just let things flow for a while and see what happens. You might be surprised at the turn of events.

The next time you need to motivate, inspire, direct, or lead, don’t think you have to be the expert. Be curious.Tap into the wisdom and needs of the other person. You will accomplish what you need much more effectively by engaging the other party in a dialogue where you can understand their perspective as part of the process.

This approach doesn’t imply that you get walked on in the process or that you become wishy-washy in your leadership. Quite the opposite. Stand firm in your decisions, but ensure that you are open to information and methods along the way.

Even though a giraffe will never have to change a tire in order to live a long and healthy life, they still had curiosity to observe and learn. That’s the way strong relationships are built. It’s a tall lesson for us humans to remember.

What situations have you had where curiosity served you well? Leave a comment below so we can all learn from your experiences. I’d love to hear from you!

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