[June 16, 2014] When most of us think of those who are employing wisdom, we typically think of “old people”. Presumably this is because wisdom is the ability to make good judgments based on knowledge, experience, reasoning, and insight. Successful senior leaders are able to employ wisdom because they have the relevant experiences to discern good from bad.
The philosophical concept of wisdom is discussed as far back as recorded history. It is highly valued, being recognized in classical antiquity as one of the four cardinal virtues. Today, of course, it continues to be valued. Hitherto, the challenge is how to instill wisdom in people.
There are many who have attempted to teach wisdom. Many self-help books and articles, college courses, and businesses we are told will infuse wisdom in us. Of course, none of this is true. The problem is we do not know how to develop wisdom in leaders, much less in any one person.
Not to be discouraged, there are things we can do to improve the chances that we can employ wisdom. Experience is the greatest teacher of lessons that one day helps us become wise. That is why the U.S. military has a policy of moving its personnel among various assignments. We gain from those many experiences. That is also why continued education is required. Knowledge is an integral part of wisdom.
Yet, with all those things we attempt to do to achieve wisdom, there are some things that we simply do not understand about wisdom. Call it divine, magical, mystical, unknowing … regardless of the name, wisdom is about things we cannot always know. What we do know is that employing wisdom is the apex of senior leadership.
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[Proverbs] Sometimes wisdom is captured in proverbs. All cultures have attempted to find the key to wisdom. Proverbs gives us insight into the wisdom of our elders. There are literally thousands of these and between 300 and 500 in the Bible alone. Here is a cross-cultural sample:
- “The more easily you get your wealth, the sooner you will lose it.” – The Bible, Proverbs 13:11a
- “Words have no wings but they can fly a thousand miles.” This Korean Proverb,
- “Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” – Spanish Proverb
- “A lie travels round the world while truth is putting her boots on.” – French Proverb
- “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” – Jewish Proverb
- “An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.” – Arabic Proverb