In Search of Executive Wisdom

 What Is Business Wisdom?

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.”  ~ Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady

Every person in an executive role aspires to exercise wisdom in their decisions. Unfortunately, far too often senior leaders are more concerned with meeting the numbers and fail to come close to being astute.

The question is, can wisdom be practiced as a leadership competency in today’s incredibly complex environment of corporate governance? And… what are the consequences of ignoring it?

While volumes have been written about wisdom over the ages, from philosophers and theologians to psychologists, it remains hard to define. Everyone believes they know it when they see it, especially in retrospect, without being able to pinpoint how or why.

It seems that everyone strives for brilliant decision- making in business, career, and work situations, and even more so when it comes to family, community, and moral issues.  But what is it? It isn’t just intelligence, it’s more than that.

A lot of my coaching clients  are smart people, in fact most are very smart. Often, however, they lack wisdom and need to develop their capacity to express it.

Defining Wisdom

The Oxford English Dictionary (1998) states that wisdom is “the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgment in the choice between means and ends; sometimes less strictly, sound sense in practical affairs; opposite to folly.” Thus there is a combination of judgment, decisions, and actions.

Robert J. Sternberg, the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University and a leading researcher of wisdom, sees it as the application of tacit knowledge in pursuing the goal of a common good. It requires a balance of intra-, inter-, and extra-personal interests and a balance of responses to environmental and global contexts over short and longer periods of time.

When leading others in organizations, matters of wisdom become complicated. In the case of executives, they must consider the needs of customers, suppliers, employees, the organization, financial profits, shareholders and the environment, often globally.

According to Sternberg (2005), “Effective leadership is, in large part, a function of creativity in generating ideas, analytical intelligence in evaluating the quality of these ideas, practical intelligence in implementing the ideas, and convincing others to value and follow the ideas, and wisdom to ensure that the decisions and their implementation are for the common good of all stakeholders.”

Sternberg has several books out on wisdom, and one that is particularly relevant to business executives is Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid (Yale, 2002).

Think about it… how would you define wisdom in the workplace? I’d love to hear your comments.

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