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  • Writer's pictureMichael Soderling

Managerial selection – the curious thing about intelligence

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

When was the last time you were 100% confident about a decision you had to make?

Whenever I ask this rhetorical question in management training, the answer is usually that it never happens, followed by a lot of laughter. This leads us nicely on to a concept that recruiting managers and HR professionals often fail to recognise when I mention it – namely the concept of tolerance for ambiguity. This can be defined as the extent to which we feel comfortable in situations characterised by complexity and lack of clarity.

Most people who work with managerial selection are acutely aware that intelligence is important. The more information a person can process simultaneously, the better equipped they are to make wise decisions. But is it simply enough for candidates to perform well on ability tests? The outcome of information processing is also a function of two other factors:

  • The information the person includes in the process

  • The extent to which a person’s intelligence is accessible under stress

Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has written an interesting article in which he argues that in addition to ability to process information, curiosity and emotional intelligence are relevant concepts when dealing with complexity.

Curious people are inquisitive and open to new things and the unknown. According to Chamorro-Premuzic, curiosity leads to a higher tolerance for ambiguity. Curious people welcome complexity and ask questions, they approach problems from different angles and attempt to see things from different points of view. Curiosity reduces the risk of limited or one-sided information from entering a person’s information processing.

Then we have the concept of emotional intelligence, which concerns the ability of individuals to cope with their own emotions and those of others. Furthermore, it concerns the ability to understand the reasons for frustration in oneself or others and not get overwhelmed by the experience. You may ask what emotional intelligence has to do with tolerance for ambiguity? Chamorro-Premuzic writes that complex situations are demanding and can cause stress. If you have ever been worried whether it’s the right time to sell your house or if you’ve ever considered buying a second-hand car from someone you don’t know, you may already have experienced this kind of stress. A high level of emotional intelligence acts as a kind of ‘buffer’ and increases the likelihood that we can still access our intelligence, even in highly pressured situations.

Another aspect of dealing with ambiguity is the degree of objective perception of reality a person is capable of. In practice, of course, no one is 100 per cent objective. It’s in our very nature to interpret reality through our own eyes. If you want to play around with that notion, have a look at these ambiguous images. What do you see?

The manner in which we perceive reality affects our ability to assess risk. If I were a naturally suspicious person, I might perceive a situation as threatening whereas most other people wouldn’t see a problem at all. And conversely if I was overly optimistic, I’d run the risk of only seeing the positives in a given situation, and therefore miss potential risks others might notice.

Curiosity can be switched on, as in this personal example when I did just that, even though I was subjected to counteracting forces. You might notice that this example is about directing curiosity inwards, which helps train emotional intelligence as an added bonus.

So in summary: Selecting intelligent managers is good, but selecting intelligent and curious managers is even better. Do you agree?


The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.

#michaelsoderling #selection #leadership


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