The difference between curious leaders and caring leaders

By Sam S. Rainer III

Both curious and caring leaders ask about followers or subordinates.

Both curious and caring leaders inquire about those who are not acting normally. An illness, family issue or work-related problem should raise a leader’s level of awareness about a particular individual, especially in the church.

Both the curious leader and the caring leader exhibit good management skills when inquiring about followers experiencing difficulties. All leaders should ask about followers. Ignorance stemming from apathy is not only poor leadership, but it’s also how you become a lousy person.

So, what’s the difference between a caring inquiry and a curious inquiry? And why is it better to be caring?

Leaders in large organizations — and leaders in churches with more than a few hundred people — cannot possibly care for each individual. The issue is not whether a leader personally invests in each person, but rather the default posture and tone of that leader.

Caring leaders desire to serve followers. Curious leaders desire information. The difference between care and curiosity is service.

The caring leader asks about a struggling follower in order to understand how better to serve him. The curious leader asks about a struggling follower to understand what work she might not finish. One cares about the individual; the other is concerned about organizational output.

There is a genuine and authentic burden that caring leaders feel for followers. Curious leaders are not necessarily inauthentic, but they simply want to know what’s taking place. It’s the difference between, “How can I help?” and “Give me information so I can make a decision.”

Caring leaders tack follower performance to help them improve. Curious leaders track follower performance to make operational decisions. I believe curiosity is a must-have leadership trait. And all leaders should maintain a high level of curiosity about their organizations. Pastors — even those with long-term tenures — must continue to ask questions.

Curiosity drives creativity and informed decisions. Leaders without curiosity rarely learn from failure. Curiosity is important. And most curious leaders do care. But a caring leader, at the core, has a heightened level of concern for each individual.

Good leaders care both for the organization and the individuals in that organization. Even if leaders cannot invest care in each individual, they can still have a default posture of serving.

Such is the burden of a caring leader.


sam_s_rainer_IIISam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,


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