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Curiosity Gives Municipal Leaders an Edge

Curiosity Gives Municipal Leaders an Edge

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By Buster Nicholson, Public Sector Outreach at American Public University

Today’s world is full of information overload, which many in municipal leadership positions can find overwhelming and frustrating especially if they don’t have a plan of engagement for such day-to-day tasks.

Does anyone really enjoy junk mail, sitting through long meetings, listening to sales pitches, or plowing through what seems like infinite emails? On an average day, local government employees are often operating in reaction mode being inundated with issue after issue. As a result, municipal leaders sometimes avoid what they consider the more mundane tasks and when they finally are forced to deal with them, they approach it with an unengaged attitude. However, by shuffling these interactions to the low priority list, people are often missing real opportunities that may benefit them professionally or personally.

[Related: Good Leaders Must Have Strong Active Listening Skills]

I can’t tell you the times I have attended a municipal conference with the presupposition that it would be yet another waste of time, only to find out that opportunities were present where I initially thought there were none. I’ve met some interesting people at these events, learned about real-world solutions to work-related issues, and have gained knowledge to better my career. The key to mining potential and recognizing opportunity is to stay acutely curious. Whenever I attend webinars, open emails, or meet with a prospective client, I approach the engagement from a mindset of inquisitiveness and curiosity.

Your attitude will influence your thoughts, and your thoughts will dictate your actions. When you go to a trade show and see a new product at a vendor booth, what are you thinking as you approach the display? Is your mind open and engaged? Are you looking for ways to increase your knowledge without pretense? When humans interact with the world around them, they bring in experiences from their past in order to make sense of the present. Being aware of this will help you to push some of your predispositions aside and view each situation with impartiality.

Here are a few tips practical tips for looking at the world through the lens of curiosity:

  1. Bombard your brain with ideas – We waste a lot of time entertaining ourselves. Ben Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again.” Use entertainment as a reward instead of a default position. Use your time wisely in the pursuit of knowledge.
  2. Look for themes – The smartest people I know are good at connecting the dots. There is nothing new under the sun. If you stay focused, you will eventually see patterns that have been part of the human experience for eons. Recognizing these patterns in a historical context will give you an edge.
  3. Stay active – Physical fitness is inextricably tied to mental fitness. Staying active with a regimented exercise program will position your psyche towards achieving new goals. Engage in some form of physical activity every day and watch your potential increase.
  4. Get in the habit of asking questions – I taught 5th grade for years, and I learned something new every day by simply asking the students questions. You can learn from anyone if you adopt an inquisitive nature.

As you continue to develop your sense of curiosity, realize that this is a skill. Be deliberate in your engagement with information, people, and situations. Heighten your awareness and mental focus by connecting the dots all around you. Ask questions and listen for answers. By remaining humble, municipal leaders can train themselves to see opportunity everywhere and at the same time reap a reward of success by exercising acute curiosity.

municipalAbout the Author: Buster Nicholson is a senior manager of Public Sector Outreach at American Public University. He has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and has worked as a public school teacher, an analyst for the United States Secret Service, a town administrator, and a director of public works. At APU, he works with directors, senior managers, and staff from state and local government entities to facilitate leadership growth through education and professional development. You can reach him at ANicholson@apus.edu.


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