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First Be Curious, Then Be Judgmental (Barry Goldberg On Leadership)

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I have a lot of empathy for Ted Lasso.

The main character of the Apple TV+ series was thrust into leadership in a completely foreign environment. He had huge expectations placed on him despite his lack of knowledge about the team he was to coach or the sport they play. And he was purposefully brought in to fail — the fall guy in a revenge plot.

Luckily, this is a made-for-TV world where the rules of time are malleable. And although I try not to write about fictional characters as a model, one of Ted’s catch phrases, “Be curious, not judgmental,” has become a full-on internet meme. It doesn’t matter that Walt Whitman, to whom Ted credits the line, never said it, sparking an online campaign to find the original author.

In case you’re not a “Ted Lasso” fan, take a few moments to watch the defining clip.

With a small edit, this clip might contain some of the most practical, objective leadership advice I have ever run across.

Curiosity opens doors, and being judgmental 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.”

Curiosity, Judgment & Debate

Think of the most enthusiastic, controversial, even adversarial discussion you’ve ever been in. Ideas flying. Value judgments offered unapologetically. Arguments abound and positions are defended vigorously. An environment like this — judgmental as it can be — invites ideation, discussion and passion for a point of view.

Ironically, curiosity encourages this process, and it can be very fruitful. Judgments (or 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’re not clear what that looks like, go back to the link above and watch the clip again.

I. Barry Goldberg is a credentialed executive and leadership coach and coach educator with a global client base.
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