Wise is an adjective that suggests the object it is modifying displays the quality being attributed to it. Being a wise leader implies the person displays keen discernment and a capacity for sound judgment.
The Hebrew word for wisdom is Chokmah which is “the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding. It is the ability to make the right choices at the opportune time.”
So, what might wise leadership look like?
Curtis Moyer was a prominent business leader in my southeast Pennsylvania community. His family founded a beef packing plant and grew it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise that is now owned by a South American conglomerate.
Early in Curt’s family business career, his father sent him to buy a cow from a recently widowed resident. Because of his empathetic personality, Curt paid more for the cow than his father had hoped. This lesson was a formative piece of wisdom that guided Curt in many of his future endeavors. As he appropriately expressed it, “Not everyone can buy a cow.”
It’s easy for leaders to ignore the wisdom of experience in favor of applying only theory to the challenges they face. Allowing ego or power to influence decisions isn’t very wise either. It’s called being a “wise-guy.”
In Robert Frost’s well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken”, the speaker finds himself in a wood, confronted with a fork in the road. Both paths are equally worn and leaf-covered. The speaker chooses a path, all the while telling himself the other path will be available to take another day. But Frost is clever enough to acknowledge how unlikely this will be. And in an ironic twist, the speaker admits that later in life, he may retell this story claiming to have taken a different path.
The decisions leaders make aren’t just about right or wrong choices. Regrets don’t qualify as wisdom. If Curt had simply felt bad about his poor business decision, the wisdom to be gained would have been lost. Instead, he became a leader who hired people to do jobs and hold responsibilities that he couldn’t. This wise insight helped the business to prosper far beyond the capabilities Curt already possessed.
Are you a wise leader or simply another wise guy that doesn’t get it?
Yogi Berra once quipped, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” While that’s a call to action, it hardly qualifies as useful advice. How many of our leadership decisions seem just as hollow?
Perhaps that is why being wise isn’t easy to achieve. It requires vulnerability and humility to know what we don’t know. Might that simple admission be the wisest thing you could ever say to those who call you their leader?
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com