The 7 Traits Of Intellectually Curious Leaders

Vivek Bapat

Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune of working for a few incredible leaders. Each of leaderthem had their unique strengths and attributes. Some were analytically brilliant; others amazing coaches who got the best of their people. Some superb at strategy; others extraordinary communicators and visionaries.

But all of them that have had a deeper, lasting impact on me have one trait in common – that of intellectual curiosity.

Many of us today are at risk of losing this important trait we all once possessed when we were children. Perhaps it was fear of failure or rebuke from a parent, a peer or a teacher. Perhaps it is the natural cynicism associated with getting older and seeing the world as it is, rather than what it could be. Perhaps it is because curiosity killed the proverbial cat.

Simply put, intellectual curiosity is the one superpower we all have, but don’t use very much. In his book, Virtuous Minds, Philip Dow explains the science on how we can train ourselves to regain this trait.

Here is my unscientific take on the 7 attributes of intellectually curious leaders purely based on my personal observations:

  1. Intellectually curious leaders challenge the status-quo to help create new breakthroughs to break away from the malaise and inertia of navel-gazing and siloed thinking that plagues many organizations.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders build high performing networks, not just teams. They inherently understand people and what motivates them better than most. They are empathetic, and draw out the best ideas from each individual. Rather than fit a person to predefined roles, they create roles around the unique strengths of each individual.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders actively engage and seek to build careers of the people around them, not just for the people within their teams.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders are risk-takers. They are entrepreneurial, but not rash. They promote experimentation, often testing the boundaries of possibilities without fear of failure. At the same time, they have short memories – they are quick to move on the next idea when something does not work.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders ask the right questions to help cut through political fiefdoms or strongly held, legacy-driven points of view. They are outcome driven and shape winning perspectives.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders promote openness of discourse. To them, a good idea is a good idea, regardless of where it comes from. A bad idea is a bad idea, regardless of where it comes from.
  1. Intellectually curious leaders are effective at combining dreams with details. They are doers, not just thinkers.

Do you know someone in your organization who displays a few of these attributes? If so, observe them, get to know them, learn from them, and emulate them. And see your career and your success soar.


About Vivek Bapat

Vivek Bapat is the Senior Vice President, Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership, at SAP. He leads SAP's Global Marketing Strategy, Messaging, Positioning and related Thought Leadership initiatives.