5 Characteristics of Globally Resilient Leaders: Relentless Curiosity

Jun 13, 2023. By Lori Brewer Collins

Abu Dhabi Dune Walking by Jake Brewer

It’s probably a safe bet to say most effective global leaders share a passion for learning. In my work with executives, I find that pretty much all are usually enthusiastic and keenly interested in discovering what’s “true,” what’s “acceptable,” and what’s “known” for each country in which they’ll operate. They try to soak up as much “book knowledge” as they can before they leave home. When they arrive at a destination, they intentionally place themselves in a variety of social and business situations to grasp regional norms and conventions and actively seek to learn as much as they can from local peers and experts.

Globally resilient leaders, however, go even further to develop a real-world awareness of themselves and the world around them. They deliberately pursue facts and gather diverse perspectives about global issues. They commit to understanding how the politics, history, economies, and societies of different nations are interrelated. They integrate knowledge about global finance, global macroeconomics, global strategy, and global marketing into their thinking and interactions.

What Relentless Curiosity Looks Like

Patrick has an intense desire for learning in general, and for learning about other countries in particular. As an American currently working in the United Arab Emirates, he loves exploring his “new world”—and does so in every moment.

As a leader, Patrick has a genuine interest in people, especially those from cultures other than his own. If he isn’t reading about Eastern ways of thinking or studying different aspects of the region’s ethnic diversity, he is intentionally asking powerful questions of his colleagues or visiting another heritage site to learn about the ancestry of the families in the area. This is helping him become increasingly sensitive to the subtleties of what’s different and what’s similar across cultures and religions in the Middle East. This is Patrick’s third international assignment, and the first time he feels as if he understands what it means to be a “citizen of the world”.

Patrick is inquisitive before, during and after work hours. His curiosity is not instrumentally tied to a business goal: it is genuine and lies at the core of who he is. He goes out of his way to get below the surface and beyond the superficial in each new culture by going where the locals go and doing what the locals do. A relentlessly curious leader, Patrick listens to learn and shows respect and appreciation for the people and cultures about which he is learning.

7 Ways to Develop Curiosity

You may think that a person is either curious or they are not. However, I know from experience that it is possible to expand your capacity for curiosity. Here are seven ways that work.

  1. Become a social anthropologist. Talk to trusted local colleagues about where it is safe to do a “walkabout” in town or within your work facility. Plan to go slow. Engage in conversation and listen to learn about people’s lifestyles. Identify what you’re paying attention to and relying on to inform your discoveries.
  2. Develop a practice of discovering alternative paths. When on a road trip, leave the highway when you can and explore the side streets.
  3. Eat where the locals eat when you are in a new city. Engage in conversation with the servers or with people at the next table.
  4. Start to learn something new—anything. Be the beginner again.
  5. Bring a “beginner’s mind” to your conversations with people you work with who come from a different cultural background. Choose a topic you don’t know much about that one of them finds of interest. Spend time learning about this topic by reading and discussing it with others.
  6. Put yourself in a situation where you have to collaborate with a group of people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Without having any other agenda, engage and learn as much as you can about them.
  7. As you make discoveries about other people and their lifestyles and beliefs, notice your own levels of comfort or discomfort. Bring awareness to how others’ experiences and beliefs trigger reactions in you.


Photo Credit: Jake Brewer, “Abu Dhabi Dune Walking”

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