In Search of Executive Wisdom
I was recently working with one of my San Francisco Bay Area executive coaching clients – the president of a professional services firm. We talked about whether wisdom can be developed or learned.
My executive coaching client and I discussed how both knowledge and experience have influenced his ability to make wise decisions. I am coaching my client to reach deep within and tap into his wisdom and creativity.
"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 be wise and is expected 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? 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.
We crave wisdom and hope our decisions will be viewed that way. We strive for brilliant decision- making in business, career, and work situations, and even more so when it comes to family, community, and moral issues.
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. Wisdom begins with consciousness of one's self and deepens with the awareness of the tension between the inner "I" and the outer world. In the case of executives, the outer world includes 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."
Are you working in a professional services firm or other organization where executive coaches provide leadership development to grow emotionally intelligent leaders? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to search for their executive wisdom? Wise leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to make good decisions.
One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Do I exercise wisdom in my decisions?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching as part of their peak performance leadership development program.