First Be Curious, Then be Judgmental.
I have a lot of empathy for Ted Lasso. He was thrust into leadership in an environment that was completely foreign. He had huge expectations placed on him despite his lack of knowledge about the team he was to coach or the sport that they played. And in the sub-plot, he was purposefully brought in to fail as the fall guy in an act of revenge.
Luckily, this was a made-for-prime-time world where human behavior is malleable. And although I try NOT to write about fictional media characters as a model— one of Ted’s catchphrases, “Be curious, not judgmental”, has become a full-on internet meme. It does not matter that Walt Whitman, to whom Ted credits the line, never said it—sparking a second internet meme to find the original author. In case you are not a Ted Lasso fan, take a few moments to watch the defining clip here: Ted Lasso (2020) - Darts
Ironically, with a small edit, it may be some of the most practical, objective leadership advice I have ever run across—curiosity opens doors—judgmentalism prevents new information from getting into the conversation. Both are important in the process of decision making. So, with apologies to the writers at Ted Lasso, I humbly submit my edit to the now famous line: First Be Curious, Then Be Judgmental.
Think of the most enthusiastic, controversial, even adversarial discussion you have ever been in. Ideas flying. Value judgment unapologetically offered. Arguments abound and positions are defended vigorously. An environment like this invites ideation, discussion, and passion for a point of view. Ironically, curiosity encourages this process, and it can be very fruitful. Judgments (decisions) made without the advantage of the fruit that comes from debate, discussion, and advocacy are often fragile and almost as often, temporary.
There are secondary advantages to fostering the debates as well. If you are leading the initiative, you get a preview of who stands where in a debate about a key decision. You get to see the view of the future from multiple points of view. You have time to formulate a strategy for dealing with those who do not want to give it up if the decision goes another way. And most importantly, all of the information in those arguments can be included in rollout planning. After all, anything your leaders have to say will be reflected in the wider organization.
Curiosity in the absence of judgment can be sterile, distracting, and even trivial. But judgment in the absence of curiosity is usually expensive and risky. If you are not clear what that looks like–go back to the link above and watch the clip again.