Saturday, February 1, 2014

Agenda item: Recruit for intellectual curiosity

Agenda item 5: Add "intellectual curiosity" to your board recruitment criteria. 

When the time comes to recruit new members, most of our boards have a list of criteria at the ready. Many of those criteria come from a somewhat predictable set of needs, including demographics, expertise and community connections.

Obviously, we need a wide range of knowledge, skills and perspectives to govern effectively. But we need other capacities that may not be as easy to identify, at least immediately.

One of those capacities is intellectual curiosity.

Nonprofit boards need individuals who don't simply accept information presented to them at face value. They need individuals who will dig deeper than the superficial explanation, and who will look for more than the obvious potential outcomes.

Boards' capacity to lead grows when they have members who will know how do draw from a broad range of knowledge sources, who'll ask probing questions, who'll explore on their own (and share their findings with the group) when more information is needed.

We need board members who ask "what if...," who ask "why...," and who ask "what else do we need to know to decide..."

We need more intellectual curiosity in our boardrooms.

Unlike other types of criteria, curiosity isn't something we can recognize instantly when a person walks into the door. It's also not (typically) a line on an individual's resume. What kinds of questions might we ask in the recruitment process to get at least a sneak peek into one's curiosity potential? I'm interested in your feedback on this; but in the meantime, here are a few examples of questions that I might pose in an interview:

  • When you have a problem to solve, what is your first step toward finding a solution?
  • Where do you find your greatest inspirations, professionally? Personally?
  • When you want to learn about something, where do you turn to first?
  • What do you wish you understood better about (our organization's mission area)?
  • What about (our mission area) intrigues you most? 
  • What's an example of a burning question or sticky situation that you've not quite resolved yet? How have you attempted to find answers so far, and why do you think you've not yet found the answer?

I'd love to hear both your thoughts about intellectual curiosity as a board criterion and your ideas for questions that might help us gauge a person's potential to bring it to the table.  Please share via a comment to this post.

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