Unbelievably Successful Leaders Are Really Nosy

Nosy neighbours. Nosy friends. Nosy colleagues. Nosy acquaintances.

The adjective ‘nosy’ refers to someone who shows too much curiosity about other people’s affairs.

It’s a tag or label that connotes a negative attribute or character; one that most people frown upon. It represents the unwanted invasion of one’s space and the inappropriate probing into another person’s affairs.

Notwithstanding the refutation of the worthwhileness of nosy, I suggest that there IS a noble place for nosy and it lies in the conversation about what constitutes a great leader.

It’s not a leadership trait that you hear discussed in the hallways of organizations or in leadership seminars.

Nosy is a topic that doesn’t befriend common leadership concepts like delegation, objective setting, empowerment, financial analysis, visioning and so on; it’s viewed as a repugnant leader trait to possess.

I’m on the other side of whether or not nosiness is an attribute that leaders should have if they want to stand out and be great.

I think great leaders are nosy; here’s why:

Probing Proboscis

They stick their nose in everything they consider important to the execution of the organization’s strategy. They know which functions are critical and what projects will determine success or failure.

So they make a point of probing the status of crucial activities and asking how they can help remove any impediments in the way of moving forward to the expected goal.

Every day of the week they stick their nose into something different. And they do it personally with no backup entourage. They want to personally understand what’s going on and what needs to be done to improve performance.

The Probing Proboscis sees their role to determine barriers to strategy execution and to provide the lubricant necessary to keep things moving — Roy, WD 40


Their nosiness into everyone’s affairs is their way to gain insights from their activity. Action begets either success or failure and regardless of the outcome produces learning that can be used to discover new things to do and new opportunities to pursue.

A glitch in a new product launch may open up a new application that wasn’t anticipated and the nosy leader wants to be involved in the activity stream so they can spot it and witness it first hand.

The nosy leader discovers useful new stuff because they’re immersed in what others are doing.

Nosy engagement stimulates innovation; the nosy leader is the catalyst — Roy, unstable compound

Discomfort raisers

There is usually a wake of discomfort created in the workplace when the nosy leader starts their invasive interest in a particular subject area.

Sure, discomfort raises a certain amount of anxiety in the crowd around the nosy leader, but it is a healthy force. Crowd members are required to be on their ‘A Game’ and find ways to perform at a higher level.

The nosy leader’s presence intervenes in any complacency going on in the workplace; they interfere with the momentum of ‘the way things are done around here’.

It’s healthy for individuals to not take things for granted because it challenges them to be more creative and productive. If they’re on edge because of nosy, too bad. They need to get over it.

Discontinuity creators

Nosy leaders sometimes change the trajectory of the activity stream they’re exploring. It could be because of a question they ask: ‘Why are you going it that way?’ which makes an employee question their current approach and decide to change it.

Or it could be as a result of a directive the leader issues when witnessing action that is inconsistent with what the organization wants.

Either way, current momentum is disrupted and a new direction is suddenly imposed on the workflow that is in the nosy leader’s crosshairs.

An abrupt change in direction on anything is positive; it removes the old and makes way for the new — Roy, interventionist

Talent finders

As the nosy ones probe everything around them, they stumble upon interesting people who have unique skills that can be put to use elsewhere. And without having their noses firmly embedded in the activity of the organization it is highly unlikely that their talent discoveries would ever have occurred.

It’s a collateral benefit to rubbing shoulders with people who are busy trying to do their jobs to achieve the objectives expected of them.

Every organization has talent nuggets among their employees just waiting to be discovered. The nosy leader is always on the lookout for people who stand out; who they notice and pay attention to. High achievers are discovered and everyone benefits.

Nosy leaders are effective because they want details of what’s going on in their organization, and they want it first hand without the filtering of middle management and others ‘below’ them in the hierarchy. If it makes employees or peer leaders uncomfortable then that’s the price paid for an intervention aimed at making the organization better.

Related: Why Leaders Should Shout “This Is an Emergency!”