Wisdom in Action

Prudent decision-making lies at the heart of wisdom but it’s not the whole story. In order to make a smart decision, a wise leader must draw upon intellectual, emotional, and social comprehension.

Over many coaching sessions with my clients, we discuss what goes into wise thinking.  Here’s a partial list of some of the things people describe as important. To make wise decisions, one must:

  • Gather information
  • Discern reality from artifice
  • Evaluate and edit the accumulating knowledge
  • Listen with both heart and mind
  • Consider what is morally right
  • Weigh what is socially just
  • Consider others as much as self
  • Think about the here and now
  • Consider future impact

In times of crisis, however, wisdom sometimes demands the paradoxical decision to resist action or judgment.

Some of the wisest and most devout men have lived avoiding all noticeable actions.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, French philosopher

There are no workbooks that, if you buy and read them, will turn you into an outstanding leader. Reading about wisdom will certainly open your mind to many possibilities, but to read about it without taking action is a fruitless endeavor

When called upon in any challenging situation, no matter how trivial, if you slow down long enough to ask yourself the question, “What would be the wisest thing to do?” you will already be moving closer to making a more appropriate and apt decision.

The question allows you to slow down the sense of urgency long enough to consider other people, other issues, and future implications. Instead of reaching for immediate solutions to take away the burning problem, you have an opportunity to consider future needs down the road.

The Contradictions of Wisdom

What are the elements that comprise wisdom? Here are recurrent themes and common qualities:

  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Clear-eyed, dispassionate view of human nature
  • Emotional resilience
  • Ability to cope with adversity
  • A philosophical acknowledgment of ambiguity
  • Recognizing the limitations of knowledge

And here’s where it gets challenging. Action is important, as well as inaction, at times. Compassion is central to wisdom, but so is emotional detachment. Knowledge is crucial, but often wisdom deals with uncertainty.

These inherent contradictions are embedded in any definition of wisdom. In fact, they are the essence of what makes wisdom so critical to leaders.

What else would you include as an important element of wisdom?

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