My doctoral work was specific to the question of how leaders experience wisdom. Here’s what I know. If you want to be a business leader in today’s complex world, wisdom is required.
Trouble is, wisdom is one of those slippery slopes. From Socrates to the present day, we still don’t have a clear way of talking about what it really means.
We do, however, have decades of research that offers a glimpse into how wise people experience life. According to Ardelt (2003, 2004), wisdom is a combination of the cognitive, affective, and reflective aspects of personality.
This is a complex conversation. For now, I’d simply like to share what wisdom can potentially look like when we wear it well.
Since everything starts with the how we think, let’s begin there:
This aspect of self has to do with how we structure and make meaning of our experiences. How we think about ourselves in relation to the world.
Wise people seek truth. They also have a desire to gain a deeper understanding of life and themselves in relation to others.
Ardelt (2015) reminds us that wise people “have a deeper knowledge about the human condition and the deeper meaning of life.”
Within the cognitive domain, my research indicates that wise leaders are:
- Driven by a clear vision for the organization
- Strategic thinkers knowledgeable about everything going on in the business
- Able to think through the implications of their decisions over the long-term
- Willing to challenge the status quo
- Responsive to adversity in positive ways
- A role model for integrity, consistency, and discernment
- Dedicated, disciplined, and deliberate
This aspect of personality has to do with the different ways that we reflect upon situations and life circumstances. How we overcome our tendency for subjectivity and self-projection.
My research indicated the potential for a strong moral code of ethics as a source of wisdom. Each of the participants in my study also emphasized a relationship with a wise mentor that helped them formulate their capacity for leadership.
The reflective element is an opportunity for us as business leaders to examine ourselves and our actions from multiple perspectives. When we develop such awareness, we then become more tolerant of others. This tolerance then prepares us to experience the affective aspects of wisdom.
My research further indicated that wise leaders may be:
- Authentic, intuitive, and passionate about their life and work
- Humble enough to be wrong
- Trustworthy and able to face mistakes and disappointments
- Self-aware and introspective
- Open to the unknown
- Intentional about their daily actions and where they want to take the business
- Accepting that “best results” are based on a collaborative effort and never one leader alone
The affective domain refers to the many different aspects of emotion (how we feel) and how those feelings are demonstrated in our behavior. How do we as effective leaders express our tolerance and compassion for others?
The leaders in my study all indicated a commitment to doing the right thing. For some, this “right thing” was geared toward their organization. For others, this commitment was expanded to include the community or society-at-large.
These leaders also valued the importance of:
- Treating people fairly and with dignity and respect
- Taking responsibility for their own failures
- Empowering others to be their best self/employee
- Giving of their own time and talent
- God, family, and team work
- Doing no harm
My study is but one small whisper in a far larger conversation on wisdom. Still, what I’ve come to know is that wisdom represents a quest to reach our highest potential. It is the pinnacle of human development, yet, in the busyness of daily life, it is often difficult to reach that summit.
The leaders in my study also showed me that the quest for wisdom is a quiet one, unheralded by the things we accomplish. Wisdom is less about what we do and more about whom we become along this journey called life.
I invite you as business leaders to think about and explore the cognitive, reflective, and affective aspects of self.
If you’d like to know more about how to develop yourself in these areas such that you can achieve greater results in your business and your life, I invite you to a free 45-minute “Think Tank”session with me personally.
The important thing to remember is that wisdom is not something that necessarily comes with age. You can have it now. You just have to commit to the journey.