Throughout my life, my father would often remind me: “If you enrich your mind with meaningful knowledge each day, it will grow stronger – if you put it to the test, it will grow wiser.” Wisdom guides our thinking, attitude and overall mindset. It pushes us to break through boundaries, and to see beyond the obvious. It directs our personal reinvention and how our leadership influences everything and everyone we come into contact with each day.
As leaders, one of our primary responsibilities is to maximize the potential of the people we serve and allow them to discover their own wisdom. We mustn’t encourage them to always follow and be guided by the wisdom of others.
Becoming wiser means allowing others to become wiser too. Are you creating distinction for your leadership by enabling your employees to share their own thoughts and perspectives and be original too? Everyone sees the world and their place at work differently. Do you expect others to mimic your thinking or are you courageous enough to let them create their own distinction?
Why is cultivating wisdom in the workplace so important? During a time when businesses and brands are attempting to break free from the status quo and reinvent themselves – two factors are different today than at any other time in modern history: 1) The speed of change: What may be relevant today, may be extinct sooner than you might think; and 2) The cultural demographic shift: that it’s becoming less about the business defining the individual and much more about the individual defining the business.
These two factors, especially when combined, require us as leaders to cultivate more wisdom in the workplace. Let’s face it, we don’t have all of the answers – and when we think that we do, the marketplace tells us otherwise. Diversity of thought fuels wisdom. Are you courageous and wise enough to accept this fact? Those not afraid to be more vulnerable will take ownership of this mindset and leadership of this new normal.
Like many immigrants, my father was forced into survival mode. Having lost his mother country to Castro’s revolution, he had to renew and reinvent himself in America. Listening to my father’s story was like taking a course in survival.
It was my father who taught me the importance of accumulating wisdom – and how to go about it by being hungry to learn and courageous enough to disrupt the status quo. I also learned from him to embrace reciprocity in relationships and to respect those whose purpose was to make those around them better – and that success comes most to those who are surrounded by people who want their success to continue.
One leader who understood this was the great USC Trojans Football coach Pete Carroll. Listen as he discusses how he discovered his philosophy and approach as he delivers the Commencement Speech for the USC Marshall School of Business (6:45 to 10:00).
As you think about your own leadership journey, here are five things to consider to help you cultivate wisdom in the workplace:
1. See Strength In Being Vulnerable
Recently a Fortune 10 executive asked me, “Why do we need to be vulnerable? Doesn’t that make me look weak? Doesn’t it minimize my clout?”
Historically, being vulnerable as leader was viewed as a sign of weakness, because of the traditional workplace that put too much of a premium on job titles. Leaders that are too proud, restrict their employees and colleagues from cultivating wisdom. But in today’s business climate, the speed of change forces us as leaders to bring others into the fold, much quicker. The speed of change in the marketplace requires us to share challenges we wouldn’t have in the past and to be more transparent so that others don’t get blindsided and momentum is not disrupted. As such, being vulnerable is a sign of strength in the 21st century leader.
For example, in the article, Inside Boeing’s Plan to Tap Workers’ Competitive Drive to Fight Off Airbus, Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the following:
“We have changed and we are changing. The competitive mindset you have to have is really critical. You have to share things you wouldn’t have shared before, bring the reality of the marketplace you were afraid to do, reluctant to do. These are not the kinds of conversations that we’ve had with work force all the way to factory floor. We’re bringing the whole game to them so they can understand exactly how they fit into the entire system. That’s the mindset we’re trying to create around this place. That’s not the mindset that has existed around here before.”
2. Promote Reciprocity
Leadership should never be one-sided, nor should the leader always be the one generating the ideas or making the decisions. Leadership means actively listening and advancing the ideas of others (and injecting recommendations along the way to further strengthen or add value to them). If you are the type of leader that needs all of the attention, you will not seek to cultivate wisdom in others.
Reciprocity is the key; cultivating wisdom requires being in-touch with what matters most to your employees and giving them the room to express their opinions and put their ideas to the test. The more you can gauge and unleash the passionate pursuits of your employees – the more effective you will be in challenging them to stretch their thinking and expand their endless possibilities.
Promoting reciprocity within the leader-employee relationship is critical to embracing diversity of thought, to inspiring independent thinking, and to stimulating new ways of doing things.
3. Encourage Risk Taking to Eliminate Fear
Another role as a leader is to teach your employees how to overcome their biggest fears. When fear stands in your way, it’s difficult to cultivate wisdom – because you lack the confidence to take risks and introduce new ways of doing things.
By making risk your new best friend, you will at times face adverse circumstances – but in that adversity you will grow and gain more wisdom. On the other hand, if you constantly avoid risk, you will miss some of your greatest opportunities. As my father also told me: “Adversity is very big when it’s all you can see. But it’s very small when it’s surrounded by opportunity.”
Encouraging others to take risks, guiding them through the experience of failure and helping them to bounce back are the rewarding steps to cultivating wisdom together.
4. Think Courageously To Push Beyond Our Limits
Beyond encouraging employees to take risks to eliminate their fears, leaders must continuously think courageously to push beyond our limits. As individuals, we have the endless capacity to extend our thinking, especially in the areas we are most passionate about. The key is to know what fuels your employees’ thinking and what inspires them to achieve.
In our quest to maximize the potential of those we lead, thinking courageously is essential if we are to equally push others to think courageously too. Leadership is about teaching others how to be courageous themselves. Your leadership is measured not only by your own courage, but by the wisdom and experience you share so that others might be courageous too.
Cultivating wisdom requires leaders to know just how far beyond their limits an employee feels comfortably uncomfortable to perform – and the level of courageousness they are willing to reach for. It’s at this point that employees begin to confidently shape their points of view and begin to put their perspectives and ideas to the test. This is when they begin to translate the knowledge they are acquiring into the wisdom that guides them and allows them to properly act upon that knowledge.
5. Value Respect Before Recognition
In today’s world of work, everyone’s perspectives should be valued especially when you consider the complexities of the workplace and marketplace. Be grateful, respect others’ unique points of views, and allow others to see opportunities previously unseen. Give people the room to live with an entrepreneurial spirit and work with a generous purpose.
There’s nothing wrong with recognition – but too many people have become recognition addicts. Wisdom teaches us not to seek recognition alone – but to primarily seek respect, which is more lasting than recognition.
The great difference between the recognized man and the respected man is the difference of the head and the heart. The recognized man appeals to the head where things are easily forgotten. The respected man captivates the heart. And the heart does not forget.
Leaders cultivate wisdom in others when they genuinely respect differences and those who disrupt the status quo for the betterment of a healthier whole.
Knowledge is what is gathered over time. Wisdom, in turn, enables us to act properly upon that knowledge. Wisdom is the fitting application of knowledge. Knowledge understands the light has turned red; wisdom applies the brakes. Knowledge sees the quicksand; wisdom walks around it.
We can’t cultivate wisdom effectively and consistently unless we can maximize the potential of everything our leadership touches and influences. If you don’t fuel wisdom in others, it makes it difficult for an organization to sustain competitive advantage over time. This is what happens when we get caught in the trap of an executive-mindset – expecting employees to do (execute) what they are told, rather than encouraging independent thinking from each team member and the diversity of thought that allows us to seize opportunities previously unseen.