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Leadership ability is a trait frequently examined with the intent of finding a common element or aptitude in individuals well before their ascent to the C-suite. Indeed, we see many tests and studies dedicated to sussing out some kind of leadership “gene,” as if it were a feature that can be simply inherited rather than cultivated via a combination of several factors.

Similarly frequent are stories of individuals that managed to succeed in their business ventures despite humble beginnings. Herein lies the main difficulty in assessing an individual’s talent for leadership; we see a diversity of backgrounds and skill sets despite a near-universal determination to do well. And in many cases, that’s not enough. While circumstance does determine an individual’s success in the world of leadership, most prominent leaders share some near-universal traits that set them apart from their peers, regardless of industry.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that leaders are smarter, more charismatic, or somehow inherently better as people. The truth, however, is that anybody can learn to become an incredible leader, though the path to success involves introspection, failure  and the willingness to adopt an agile mindset. That mindset is what sets leaders apart -- something referred to as applied curiosity

Applied curiosity drives individuals to not only learn, but to understand. This can be seen in the smallest of interactions; a visit to a small business may turn into a discussion with the owner about their operations and how they succeed in their market space. Even outside of the world of business, this mindset may drive individuals to become polymaths that dabble in all sorts of unconventional hobbies with the intent of learning through action.

Continuous Improvement

Applied curiosity leads individuals down roads of continuous improvement. In doing so, they both avoid complacency and recover from failure. It also drives them to critically examine the industries in which they work. Most businesses have shortcomings that even long-runners in the space have failed to consider, leaving the opportunity for disruptors to move in and capitalize on potential growth areas. 

Many industries have been shaken up by innovators not content with a “business as usual” mentality. Perhaps the most obvious example is Uber -- using the convenience of technology to streamline a service previously only available in large cities. 

That said, it can be problematic for a business founder to enter a new space with the intent of becoming the next big disruptor. Indeed, success can sometimes be attributed not to first movers but to companies that came after and hammered out issues with these initial iterations. 

Good leaders have a healthy respect for their competitors, incorporating parts of their business that work well without sacrificing their unique value proposition. These companies need to be willing to have a clear strategic objective for the space that they operate in that goes beyond “dominate the industry.” This all-or-nothing mentality leads to disappointment at best and organizational collapse at worst.

Staying Current is a Must

To avoid this kind of stagnation, leaders need to be able to play to the current circumstances without sacrificing their long-term goals. A willingness to enact change comes with the growth mindset of applied curiosity. The word “agility” has become a tired cliché in many business spheres, but it’s really just a positive consequence of business leaders that cultivate a flexible mentality. 

I’ve tried to approach my business, The Allure Group, with the perspective of finding ways to improve the industry of senior living. In this case, I was struck by the deficiencies present in eldercare when I was caring for my grandfather. I saw a disconnect between the services nursing homes were purported to provide and a general unwillingness to listen to the needs of the seniors in their care. 

For me, The Allure Group is about bringing dignity to seniors and empowering them to stay independent as long as they can. In building my business, I regularly visit employees and residents to give myself a thorough look into the day-to-day operations and identify what I can do to improve at a structural level.

Learning from Failure

Of course, I’ve also experienced my share of failures. When starting out in the business world, I stagnated in part by hiring friends and family members, not realizing that I was limiting myself by not introducing new perspectives. I’ve changed my hiring practices since and have endeavored to surround myself with a diversity of opinions, especially from those that know more than I do about their specialties. It’s important to recognize how each role contributes to the success of a business rather than basing personnel decisions around CEO preferences or a desire to build a team of “all-stars.”

When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as a perfect leader or a winning formula that will propel a new business into unicorn territory. All any leader can do is adopt a mindset that drives them to learn more, understand more, and do more. This need not be exclusive to a small subset of executives -- anybody can choose to take ownership of their mistakes and strive to build themselves up by embracing the new and the novel.

About the Author(s)

 Joel  Landau

Joel Landau is the founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a rapidly expanding provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services throughout the New York downstate area. The Allure Group transforms nursing homes into post-acute rehabilitation centers that are attentive to the needs of residents when it comes to their health, comfort, culture, and quality of life. Landau is also...

Founder and Chairman, The Allure Group
How to Think Like a CEO