Is this thing on?

Not long ago I was talking with international HR guru Novette Kanaria and we fell to discussing leadership.

Turns out amongst all the other attributes that can help both define and predict leadership there is growing consensus about an element we don't often think of: curiosity.

Looking back over the cannon of leadership thought – which is only about 100 years old mind you – we've come a long way. We started with the leader by birth model, you either had it or you didn't and have since migrated through trait theory, situational leadership and charismatic and collaborative models.

It seems we never tire of trying to understand where leaders come from and how their skills are honed.

Yet curiosity explains a lot, and should be considered more thoroughly.


As children we're born curious wondering about our world. Somewhere around age 3 when we begin to realize there's an existing world beyond our immediate space (Piaget labelled this “object permanence”) we become even more curious trying to understand inputs and outputs as we begin to develop our framework of how the world works.

In adolescence we couple experimenting with curiosity gaining both good and bad experiences with cigarettes, booze and who knows, maybe the occassional kiss from the object of our affection.

Yet somewhere following our school years this curiosity – this innate wondering about the hows and whys of the world – begins to get tamped down. Maybe it's the entry to the workforce, the lack of stimulation of being with thousands of other students or the trials of raising a family on a tight budget. Who knows?

But the truth is we become less and less curious over time. Much like consuming just a few too many calories every day over a long period, after a while things catch up with us. Over time, if we don't stoke our curiosity the world can look flat and lifeless and leave us wondering where the fun and excitement went.

Hence the new model of leadership.


We know now that intelligence per se is not the sine qua non for effective leadership. While it takes a base level to participate in leadership games, the truth is incremental intelligence over a threshold is just that: incremental. It doesn't help much in terms of applied leadership.

EQ is important we know, as are skills, competencies and the art of learning itself. All are necessary and can be learned themselves if you'll exuse the redundancy.

But what drives all of these activities, what facilitates the ability to pick things up (and importantly, knowing when to put them down) is an underlying sense of curiosity about work, life and indeed, the world. How do things work?

In a world where old assumptions and tired models fall away in the face of constant change and disruption effective leadership can't be had through rote patterns. Rather, today's leader has to be able to assimilate meaning from disparate sources constantly reevaluating links and related cause and effect even as the world spins around us.

In short, they must have an insatiable curiosity about how the world works.

Leadership is one of those areas I could discuss forever: it is fascinating to me. Today however, let's plant one new mustard seed and see just how large we can grow this plant. Today let's consider the absolute fundamental and essential role that curiosity plays in the effectiveness of leaders.

Question, reflect, consider. Become curious about your world, and watch your leadership influence grow.

This thing is definitely on.


4 thoughts on “Curiosity

  1. I think the term “passion” is so commonly used now that when I hear it I can feel my eyes rolling. But passion is really curiosity. Being curious enough to display an interest. Be curious enough to see things through. Be curious enough to see how big you can grow it. Great post Mr. Demers

    • I agree Cranston: I do my best to forego buzzwords. Curiosity has yet to be tarnished though – its very essence means looking at at considering things in a new way. I like this idea, and think we would all benefit with a little more (or a lot more) curiosity.

      Thanks for taking the time to write Cranston!

  2. Great post, Chris. I think the best way to stay curious is to always seek out opportunities to learn and grow. We should live life with the idea that there is always something new to learn everyday. This mindset not only keeps you humble, but also curious about what the next day will bring. A good leader is someone who cares about the growth of others, and the best way to help others succeed is to teach them something. The more you learn, the more knowledge you have to pass on!

    • I really enjoy your thoughts Karlina; what’s key to me in this whole notion is the idea of being humble. Humble to me doesn’t mean lowering of self-esteem, rather it means a quiet competence that doesn’t require us to boast about it, while at the same time recognizing there is so much more we do not know.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Karlina – it means a lot to me.

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