by: Carol Crawford
Your people represent all the intellectual capital and knowledge-ware that exists within your law firm. Through that lens, attorneys and support professionals are both your largest asset and the key to your advancement. The case for making a robust investment in people seems clear, but while law firms have historically recognized the value in leveraging and developing their talent by investing in professional development programs, many stop there. The responsibility to genuinely develop, however, doesn't. When firms make a decided investment in intellectual curiosity, they open the door for untapped potential to flow freely.
Taking professional development to the next level in your firm requires intentional behavior changes that will cumulatively create and foster a culture of continuous learning and development. This is especially critical in fast-paced, high-intellect environments, and within an industry that grows more and more competitive every day.
Intellectual curiosity is an individual’s drive and desire to invest time and energy into learning more. Every person is born with intellectual curiosity (just think about any 4 year-old you know), but this innate curiosity can become buried if not nurtured and practiced. When someone is intellectually curious, they push to find the answers to “why?” and “why not?” The degree of intellectual curiosity is the intensity and persistence to go below the surface and ask probing questing to arrive at the core issues surrounding a particular concept. The ability to offer an original perspective is the welcome distinction many firms are looking for to gain a competitive advantage, and to encourage top talent to stay.
How do you hire for this trait and how do you foster it within your own team and culture?
HIRING INDIVIDUALS WITH INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY
- Ask questions which will provide insight into an individual’s intellectual curiosity:
- First, ask about how they’ve grown and developed in their current role. Seek to identify if the individual has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to self-improvement and continuous learning.
- Ask the candidate what they enjoy doing for fun or about the most recent book they’ve read. You can measure their level of engagement as they talk about their interests and what they enjoy doing.
- When discussing their current and previous roles, ask about the ways in which they added value. What did they do that made a difference? What was their best idea and how did they bring it to fruition?
FOSTERING A CULTURE OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY
- Model the behavior – Ask others what they think (including the quiet introvert!) and then stop to listen and incorporate the feedback. When others see that the group’s feedback is welcomed and useful, they are more likely to offer it unprompted.
- A key trait of successful leaders is their ability to ask really good questions. The best leaders foster this trait in others by encouraging their people to thoroughly think through an issue. They lead others with probing questions rather than telling them the answer which stimulates deeper learning, research and thought. You may be surprised with what your team can come up with when given the chance.
- Challenge your team with “why?” and “why not?” questions. This cuts through the politics and the “we’ve always done it this way” default responses.
- Create an environment where it’s okay to fail. This is rarely easy in a law firm, but can be done effectively within the relative safety of a team.
- Put a reward and accountability structure in place that promotes turning ideas into results. Ideas without execution don’t really add value.
Fostering a culture where intellectual curiosity is regularly modeled, practiced and rewarded, builds an agile environment where innovation and progress can thrive and impact players can be unleashed.