This is a superb piece written by three headhunters from the executive search firm, Egon Zehnder. The piece focuses on “curiosity”. Why? Because the headhunters at Egon have found that: “Although we have found that high potentials also need insight, engagement, and determination, curiosity—defined as a penchant for seeking new experiences, knowledge, and feedback and an openness to change—is perhaps most important. In fact, in analyzing exactly how leaders develop, we’ve found that curiosity—which we assess on a four-point scale, from emerging to extraordinary, using interviews and reference checks—is the best predictor of strength in all seven of the leadership competencies we measure (results orientation, strategic orientation, collaboration and influence, team leadership, developing organizational capabilities, change leadership, and market understanding).”
But there is a catch – just because an executive is extremely curious doesn’t mean that she will be “competent”. To move from curiosity to competence, an executive has to do a bunch of things and be exposed to the appropriate stimuli: “Consider the cases of 20 actual general managers. All were rated as extraordinarily curious, yet only half reached the top level of competence; the other half were at the bottom. What separated the two groups was the complexity and breadth of the opportunities they’d been given, as shown in the exhibit “Experiences That Transform Curiosity into Competence.” The top 10 executives had worked for more companies, been exposed to more diverse customers, worked abroad or with colleagues from other cultures, dealt with more business scenarios (start-ups, rapid growth, M&A, integration, downsizing, turnarounds), and managed more people. When curious people are given these experiences, they shine. When they aren’t, they either stagnate or jump ship. While most of the low-competence managers had worked for just one company, the outstanding ones had worked for more than three.“

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