Remember when you were a curious child? We were all born curious. What happened on the way to work? Curiosity, like many qualities related to compassion, is something we all innately possess, but have lost touch with.

Compassion requires three elements: an awareness of others and their feelings, an empathic response to their condition, and finally an ability and desire to act. With these three in place, leaders will actively be able to put their compassion into action.

The first step towards compassionate action – awareness of the feelings and experience of another person – requires a step outside of yourself and your judgment about what is happening. Curiosity is a core competence that will richly enhance your awareness of another and your compassionate leadership skills.

What we observe in the world is only the proverbial tip of an iceberg. The behaviors and actions we see are caused by the values, needs, and attitudes of the other. As leaders, if we want to facilitate change in our sphere of influence, it is critical to understand what is going on beneath the surface where the deeper story resides. A compassionate curiosity is the path to gaining visibility into the deeper truth. It allows us to non-judgmentally gain an understanding of the root cause of any action. This gives us the information and space to respond in a truly productive way. Band-aids won’t heal a broken bone.

A valuable place to start is to ask the simple question, “Why is someone behaving in that way?” and be truly interested and curious in the answer. The same behaviors in different people may well have very different root causes: fears, personal history, environmental stressors, etc. As we get below the surface, our deeper appreciation of the individual informs us to reinforce positive behaviors and support change of negative behaviors in each unique situation.

The value of curiosity is validated in research literature. For example, research is clear that work teams that engage more in inquiry-based communication outperform teams that engage more in advocacy-based communication. Curiosity leads to the desire to know and learn more, which leads to more creative solutions and better operating results.

Other thought leaders in the fields of leadership and compassion also recognize the value of curiosity. Amy Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, offers three Cs as part of her toolkit for fostering psychological safety: curiosity, compassion, and commitment. Curiosity helps support compassion, and a commitment to both ensures that the compassion continues to flourish.

Krista Tippett, host of the wildly successful podcast On Being, views curiosity as a critical skill toward developing compassion. In a interview with Tara Brach, author of Radical Compassion, when asked about her own practice of compassion, Tippett answered that “real listening is an act of compassion… because deep listening is about being fully present.” She continued saying that “a core move to compassion is curiosity… and curiosity is one of my muscles that I’ve worked hard to flex.”

Like most other qualities in the compassionate leadership toolkit, using your curiosity muscle, as Krista says, takes practice. What would happen differently tomorrow if you lead with curiosity? Let us know!