Leadership: It is wise to ask?

Could we do with wiser leaders? It seems, on the face of it, like silly question. But it needs to be asked. There is, you see, paradoxical gap between the frequency of discussion about the need for better leadership and, the scarcity of literature that links the competency of leadership with the concept of wisdom.
Convention has it that leaders must be intelligent, charismatic, smart, knowledgeable or equipped with other similarly striking attributes. There is much less chatter about the importance of them being endowed with wisdom and, even less about them needing to be wise. Wisdom, you see, is one thing; being wise is quite another.
The world is packed, if not to the gunnels then well above the high water line, with data, information and knowledge. This is, after all, the knowledge age. Knowledge management supports veritable industry of literature, practitioners, advocates, academics, theorists and, is an integral part of leadership learning.
With all that knowledge available, greater wisdom should be the outcome. The standard philosophical definition says that wisdom consists of “making the best use of available knowledge”. Wisdom, in other words, suggests an enlightened perspective.
Now take considered look at the world around you. Only the most generous interpretation of the things you see could suggest that leaders generally are turning their rapidly expanding knowledge resources to account with increasingly enlightened perspectives of anything really.
Wisdom integrates personal values into knowledge-based decision-making. And, according to Dr Bruce Lloyd, professor of Strategic Management at London South Bank University, the world needs to take the link between wisdom and leadership more seriously, particularly when we talk about tackling the issues we will face in tomorrow’s world.
He told World Future Society conference few years back that the world needed to move beyond working smarter to working wiser and the knowledge society needed to become the wise society. Leaders needed to be more concerned with core knowledge “distilled through the experience of history into wisdom”.
Wisdom helps provide meaning but leadership and futurist literature spends more time focused on recycling information and facts that “have relatively short shelf life” and much less on knowledge that overlaps with wisdom with its long shelf life. Lloyd thinks leadership and management literature need to take wisdom more seriously. “It is critical to our understanding of the knowledge economy and society as well as strategy and leadership in general,” he says.
American futurist Edie Weiner takes more pragmatic and personal-advancement view of why leaders should hook into wisdom. She thinks it is now important for climbing the leadership ladder, especially for women. Smarts are becoming obsolete. Being intelligent means leveraging knowledge to make connections where there isn’t formulaic answer. Wisdom, on the other hand, is about “knowing what to say to whom, when and under what circumstances, and for what purpose”, she says. Hmmm.
The world needs leaders with the wisdom to understand what is happening in business, the economy, the communities in which they operate and the world at large. Too often leaders are obsessed with technology or are doggedly focused on the experiences of the here-and-now. Wisdom and what it brings to the leadership process is ignored.
Lloyd thinks it is easy to recycle wisdom. The hard thing is to put it into practice. The wise consistently put wisdom into practice.
Many of the important messages about the state of the future of the human race were delivered more than 1000 years ago. Wisdom consists of time-tested insights. It needs to play great role in leadership development and learning. But, as one anonymous historical quote puts it: “The only lesson we appear to be able to learn from history is that we don’t learn from the lessons of history.” M

Reg Birchfield is writer on leadership, governance & management. [email protected]

Visited 4 times, 1 visit(s) today

New NZ CEO and COO at FNZ

Global wealth management platform, FNZ, has appointed Jeremy Graham as Chief Executive Officer of New Zealand, and Aroha Steele as the country’s Chief Operating Officer.  The company says in a

Read More »
Close Search Window