In my interviews and meetings with hundreds of CEOs over the years, I've noticed that the best ones have a burning sense of curiosity. I think it's one of the most important differentiators. Here are the ways they manifest that curiosity:
- Reading Outside Their Industry. It's easy to immerse yourself in one vertical area of business knowledge. But the best CEOs read books and magazines outside their narrow business focus. They're trying to find trends that are going to hit their company in coming years. And they're looking to adjacent fields to find tips on how other industries are coping with a particular problem.
- Exposure to Networking Groups. The best CEOs expose themselves to other corporate leaders in non-profit settings or organizations like the Young Presidents Organization. And in those environments, they are constantly hungry for best practices.
- They Don't Wall Themselves Off. The most curious and therefore best CEOs make sure that they have exposure to people in their private and social lives who can speak the truth to them, even if it's uncomfortable. They don't fall into the CEO Trap where the only things you hear are the things that people beneath you want you to hear.
- Avoiding the Arrogance Trap. A corollary is never becoming arrogant, never assuming that he or she knows everything. When a whole organization knows that a CEO is curious and is open to learning, that shapes the culure of the whole company. But when a CEO projects arrogance, the whole company shuts down and stops learning. The personality and behavior of the CEO is so crucial--it cascades throughout the organization.