Curiosity killed the Kat?

This is a blog mini series on leadership and culture.

In the introductory post, I explained why I think cocks make terrible leaders but CHICKENs make great leaders! To refresh your memory, CHICKENs are leaders who outwork the values of:








My wife, Kat, is hands down the best person I know. A total CHICKEN.

One of her best qualities and one of the reasons I love her, is her incredible and insatiable curiosity.

When she was training as a therapist, her mentor was always saying to her, ‘stay curious!’

And she does. She is. Curious. Not as in strange or unusual. But as in, she is genuinely interested to learn and know more about people. She has this incredible ability, to lock eyes with someone, let them know she deeply cares about them, tilt her head to the side and create a beautifully safe space in which her curiosity helps unlock healing for people. Amazing. And it’s never killed her – not even once.

Curiosity is such an important quality and for me now a core value, in life generally, but especially in leadership. Perhaps it is far too unusual as a quality valued in leadership.

Curiosity allows us to suspend our judgments. It stops us from thinking that we know it all. It allows us to be surprised, to ask better questions, to dig a little deeper. Curiosity prevents us from assuming we know the answer before we have really heard and seen what is emerging. It allows us to celebrate difference, recognise uniqueness and opens up new possibilities. It is open handed and tender hearted. It holds complexity and is not afraid to feel insecure in the ‘not-knowing’.

We all know what happens when we are not curious. We keep on trying to answer the questions in front of us with the same old mechanistic answers. And then we wonder why we don’t see the changes we need.

Curiosity allows you to look at data about a group of people and then go and sit with them to find out whether or not that is, in fact, their lived experience. Curiosity enables you to explore why things might not be working and to discover creative ways of engaging with the issue at hand. Curiosity is deeply joyful because it can open up new paths, fresh perspectives and exciting new potentials.

One of the best leaders I have met is Ellie McNeil, Chief Executive of YMCA Together. There’s a good reason why it is considered to be the best charity in the UK to work for!

Image from YMCA Together Website

One of the things Ellie has done so well as a leader is to instil curiosity in all of her team and volunteers.

She uses Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) as a means to developing compassionate leadership throughout the organisation. In other words, she encourages everyone to be actively curious about why they might treat one person differently to another, or why they might have a particular reaction in a given situation. It allows people to be kind, to ask better questions of themselves and others and be honest about what is going on inside themselves in any interaction.

In my team, we’ve recently had some difficult conversations about finance. I found it so interesting that when we introduced the topic of conversation, every persons body language changed. Having learned from Ellie, I simply asked them to notice this, to reflect on it, to be curious about what changes in them when we start to talk about money. Then we postponed the conversation and brought it back next time with people being more self-aware about what was happening in them and for them.

If we’re going to develop truly caring organisations in the NHS and social care, we need to develop genuine curiosity. What’s going on in me? I wonder what’s going on in you? What’s really happening here?

In every consultation I have with a patient, I’m asking myself these questions: What’s your story? What matters to you? What do we know? What do we not know? What do we need to know? How can we find out? What are we going to do with the information when we make those discoveries? What choices will you make about your own care, once we know the options?

Curiosity never killed anyone in health and social care. On the contrary, it literally saves thousands of lives. It is a lack of it that is dangerous.

So…..Don’t be a cock. Be a CHICKEN – it starts with being curious.

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The Art of Connecting Communities – Why Bother Connecting? (Day 2)

As with any training, we kicked off day 2 with a “feed forward” – there are loads of different ways you can do this, and the idea is to bring day 1 into day 2 and remind everyone what has happened in the previous day. It helps people to be ‘present’ and have a sense of continuity. Day 2 is always hosted by participants in the training, with the team acting as coaches for them. Our hosts decided to use a large heart in the middle of a circle and asked each of us to write a few words of reflection about what had really stood out for us on Day 1. It was a great way of collating a collective sense of what had happened and gave us a really positive platform to build on.


Following this, Mike Love, a really experienced and excellent host from Leeds, who has been such a key person in helping us on our journey in Morecambe Bay, framed the day for us by helping us think through the process of opening up conversations (divergence), how to hold the groan zone (emergence of ideas) and the process of bringing a conversation into a point of agreement/next steps (convergence). The diamond of participation, as well call it, is a great way to understand our own preferences in conversations. Some of us love to open things up with great questions and get a conversation. Some of us a really comfortable hold the space for the emergence of ideas and love to see what is generated. Others of us, like to focus more on tasks and getting something delivered. The truth is that all of these are REALLY necessary if we’re going to create spaces in which we can discover collective intelligence. There was a real ‘aha’ moment when someone from the public sector said – “Our consultations are not really consultations at all, in any way. They are really a con and an insult”. This insight really provoked some great discussion!


Having fed forward and framed the day ahead together, we then checked in before heading into Open Space! Open space is a fantastic way of having the conversations that the people in the room want to have! Ours was framed around the question: “What do you believe we can achieve locally?” There were so many great conversations!


Then it was time for more theory. Mike Love, helped us again with thinking through ‘complexity theory’. We work in incredibly complex and chaotic systems and yet we often approach and measure them as if they were simple and complicated. If we are really going to learn to work well, we have to examine what it is we believe and how we see complexity, so we can learn to be far more adept in how we work in connection and relationship to others.


Designing for Wiser Action’ is another art of hosting tool, which is extremely useful if you are designing a project and would love to get the help and insight of others in knowing how to make it as effective as possible. We took most of the rest of the afternoon for people to work on ‘live projects’ which they wanted help with or needed to refine – another immersive practice where we learnt as we went along. This is a great tool, but also takes some guts! There is a point in the process where, having designed your project, you listen as other people come and find all the holes in it and offer some alternative solutions, whilst you have your back turned, cannot interject no try to justify yourself! Brutal love in action!


We ended the day by checking out, talking about our next steps and inviting people to help us plan for the 3rd day of training, where we will welcome back other members of the community of practice. We have now seen 250 people go through Art of Hosting/Art of Connecting Communities training in Morecambe Bay and are growing a wonderful network of hosts, who are learning to host ourselves, be hosted and host others (alone and together) in a way that creates space for new things to emerge. I am full of hope for the future!






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