While top CEOs don’t necessarily know all the answers, they display passionate curiosity with almost everyone they meet. Their ability to ask questions and expand their horizons gives them a fuller understanding of complex issues.
“You learn from everybody,” says Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company’s CEO. “I’ve always just wanted to learn everything, to understand anybody that I was around—why they thought what they did, why they did what they did, what worked for them, what didn’t work.”
It’s not enough to be curious only about certain topics. Ideally, your passion for learning should carry over into virtually any subject. You want to treat everyone you meet as a potential source of new information.
When chatting with employees, successful CEOs like to ask disarming questions such as, “Why do you do that?” “How come it’s done this way?” and “Is there a better way?” They do not hint at the type of answer they want to hear. Instead, they listen without judgment so that people are more apt to open up.
“In business, the big prizes are found when you can ask a question that challenges the corporate orthodoxy,” said Andrew Cosslett, former CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group. “In every business I’ve worked in, there’s been a lot of cost and value locked up in things that are deemed to be ‘the way we do things around here.’ So you have to ask them, ‘Why do you do that?’”
— Adapted from “Distilling the Wisdom of CEOs,” Adam Bryant, www.nytimes.com.