great leader with high intellectual curiosity visualized while thinking

Great Leaders Have High Intellectual Curiosity

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.

Mortimer Adler

Now, this next section may be slightly controversial, but we have been talking about the power of learning as a leadership force multiplier. All I ask is that you read the next section with an open mind then take a little time over the next couple of days to engage in some deep reflection on this before you decide whether to accept or dismiss this section. Intellectual Curiosity (CQ) should be one of the top 3 – Go or NO GO criteria for hiring, retaining, and training talent for your organization. That’s just plain crazy, right? Top 3? What about communication, results orientation, innovation, decisiveness … You can probably name a dozen significantly important leadership qualities and characteristics that meet the GO or NO GO criteria. Intellectual Curiosity, or the lack thereof can completely undermine, counteract, subvert and weaken all other great leadership traits and qualities.

A man who asks is a fool for five minutes. A man who never asks is a fool for life.

Chinese Proverb

The more senior the role, the more critical Intellectual Curiosity (CQ) is to a leader’s ability to succeed. For senior roles, the level of Intellectual Curiosity (CQ) is one of the strongest predictors of a leaders’ success and effectiveness. Intellectual Curiosity is not just critically important; it is a “must have”. I have rejected great candidates that have checked every box on the role requirements list but lacked a sufficient level of Intellectual Curiosity. Frankly, I would expect to be rejected as a candidate for any senior leadership role if I did not clearly convey Intellectual Curiosity as one of the key strengths I bring to the table.

First, I want to make sure you do not confuse Intellectual Curiosity (CQ) with Intelligence (IQ). While they accompany each other in most leaders, that is not always the case. Intelligence is usually defined as the ability to learn or understand or deal with new or trying situations. This ability is often referenced and quantified as a person’s (IQ – Intelligence Quotient). Intellectual Curiosity is consistently defined as one’s deep and persistent desire to know: one’s desire to invest time and energy into learning more about a person, place, thing, or concept. I have seen this desire quantified as a person’s (CQ- Curiosity Quotient). IQ is the ability to learn and CQ is the desire to learn. I always equate IQ horsepower as an important asset for any leader but having intelligence without curiosity is like having the innate ability and genetic gifts to be an Olympic athlete without the desire to put in the training and work to unlock and unleash those assets. Usually, the final verdict in this metaphor is that you never reach your true potential and never become an Olympic athlete.

The greatest enemy of learning is knowing.

John Maxwell

Let’s get back to the business aspect of Intellectual Curiosity(CQ). I believe there are two real world substantive reasons that mandate high intellectual curiosity for all leaders –

First it’s a V.U.C.A. world and second high CQ talent are almost always the best leaders and the best employees. In earlier posts we talked about the leadership needs and requirements for an organization to succeed in a V.U.C.A. (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world. Leaders with strong Intellectual Curiosity make the best VUCA leaders. Leaders with high CQ’s tend to have the key characteristics needed to lead and succeed in a V.U.C.A. world.

  • Learn and Adapt Faster- (V, A)
  • Listen and Engage Better- (U, A)
  • Bring in New Knowledge and Ideas – (U, C, A)
  • Foster Openness in Discourse, Driving Innovation – (U, C)
  • Sponsor Smart Risk Taking and Learn from Failure – (V, U, C, A)
  • Leverage High Performance Networks- Inside and Outside their Industry – (U, C, A)

Throughout my career, the Best Leaders have consistently been the Best Learners, and learning is driven by high CQ. I’ve also seen leaders with high CQ’s tend to have high empathy and seek to surround themselves with diversity of culture and of thinking. They leverage both the power and the science of “why” and sponsor an open and curious culture grounded in the desire to learn. An organization with a culture of learning attracts and retains intellectually curious employees. These employees tend to be faster learners and are willing to invest the time and energy to expand their learning. They also tend to be extremely engaged in their organization and the world around them; they pride themselves on being innovative and forward thinking.

Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can – there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.

Sarah Caldwell

I recommend you create and execute a strategy to recruit, retain, and train for Intellectual Curiosity in all levels of your organization.

Live Without Limits!