On curiosity

Who are the people that ignite curiosity in you, and in your leadership practice?

Through the lens of higher education, Paul Gentle reflects on the moments where curiosity has inspired him to take a new and different path. Here’s what happened.

It may have killed the cat. It might have confounded Alice, too. Yet the further she got into Wonderland, the more curiosity seemed to become more of an enabler than a barrier. That’s the way it’s been for me throughout my time in higher education.

My energy became rocket-fuelled by conversations that aimed to fire colleagues up for the journeys we were setting out on.”

I was lucky to join an institution where there was every encouragement to try out ideas just to see what would happen. As Lancashire Polytechnic became the University of Central Lancashire, a new era of entrepreneurial behaviour kicked in. The department I was in was full of vigour: there was curiosity in every direction, it seemed. We were mad keen to know how universities worked in China. We thrived on bringing together all kinds of different thinkers across networks that straddled the intercultural crossroads of Europe. And we couldn’t wait to learn how our peers in newly-opened former Eastern Bloc countries would respond to developing and then teaching skills in creativity, problem-solving and negotiation.

On promotion to a managerial role, my curiosity about other people became insatiable. My energy became rocket-fuelled by conversations that aimed to fire colleagues up for the journeys we were setting out on. Although nobody talked much about leadership then, this was where all my questions seemed to lead me.

When the National College for School Leadership was first mooted in the late 90s, I woke up. I smelled the coffee on what this might all mean for educators in universities, and for the outcomes our students might attain. My curiosity took me next to questions of ‘What if…?’, shared on myriad post-its across the sticky rainbow of colours.

With colleagues all over the world, the questions hovered in the air, formed into dreams – and some of these materialised.

Even if some of the dreams were broken, what mattered most was what lingered: a sense of wonder, of intrigue, of impatience to ask what might happen next. Where our students would take their own curiosity. 

When I stood on the edge of the Rubicon that led to leadership development, I was curious to apply learning from my Doctoral research to university leadership settings of all shapes and sizes. The Leadership Foundation first made this possible.

In our collective pursuit of curiosity, there’s nothing more fulfilling than being surrounded by people whose questions have wings.”

Invisible Grail has now become the ultimate expression of infinite variations on questions about the possibilities of leadership… to inspire, to challenge, to transform. It’s always been a blessing to work with the curious people who are everywhere in higher education.

In our collective pursuit of curiosity, there’s nothing more fulfilling than being surrounded by people whose questions have wings.

I’ve loved finding and working with people who inspire curiosity for, and in, me; I wonder who these people are for you?

Photo by Jeremy Beck on Unsplash

By Paul Gentle

Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.

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