In Search of Wisdom

Do you ever think about wisdom? The idea recently leapt into my consciousness, and I realized that it’s not a concept that I (or anyone else) seem to think much about. What struck me is that wisdom is such an essential part of leadership, yet we rarely think of it or speak of it (let alone nurture it).

When I Googled a definition of wisdom, here’s what I found:

“the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”

Wow – how have I (and we) missed this foundational element of leadership: experience plus knowledge plus good judgment?

So often we look at experience as evidence enough of knowledge, but the two are not the same. Good judgment is certainly not a necessary outcome of experience or even of knowledge. In fact, good judgment is a missing ingredient (along with some other key ingredients) from too many people’s leadership.

In pondering this question – what is wisdom – I came up with an additional four key elements on the path to wisdom: curiosity, questions, discernment and humility. First, everyone that I know who I believe has wisdom (which can be broad or narrow in a particular area) has a natural and almost insatiable curiosity. They want to know the way things work, why things work, the ways people think, feel and interact, what gets in the way, and in what ways opportunities can be created and problems solved. In short, curiosity is about being willing not to know all the answers and about always wondering and asking.

This leads us to questions. Inquiring, open-ended and searching questions are an essential tool for those who are seeking wisdom. This means asking questions without knowing the answers and going beyond questions simply designed to get you information you want or need. These are questions designed to feed and seed thinking, uncertainty and exploration. They follow the example of the brilliant Albert Einstein, who treasured good questions as the path to deep answers – and thus the path to wisdom.

Next, we come to discernment, which has been defined in these two ways:

  1. the ability to judge well (There it is … good judgment, which we saw in the wisdom definition above); and
  2. (especially in spiritual contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.

I love that last point – direction and understanding, whether in the spiritual or secular world. Thus, the  circle for wisdom is nearly complete – experience (which includes not only the quantity but also the quality of experience), knowledge, curiosity, questions and discernment (good judgment in the context of searching for direction and understanding). But there is one more key element to fully complete the wisdom circle – humility.

I recently read this about humility:

“Humility is smart enough to confess what it does not know. … Without humility, you are out of position to receive wisdom. … Indeed, humility places in the heart a hunger for wisdom.” Boyd Bailey

If you believe that the search is for the right answers (trying to have answers to and for everything), then you are the opposite of humble. The humble person seeks to understand and discover, while others seek merely to find the answers and be done with the search. The humble person acknowledges what they do not know and invests in learning more, while others claim to have all the answers. Thus, humility is an essential element if you are on the journey to wisdom.

What would it mean for the leaders in your organization to have (or at least pursue) more wisdom and embrace a wisdom-seeking approach in their leadership? What would it mean for you to have more wisdom in your own leadership? What would it mean if the insatiable search for wisdom was at the core of your life? Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the impact. Imagine the difference.

But why just imagine it when you can live it? It’s simply a matter of choosing the path of wisdom. “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16 NIV). Are you ready to join me in the search?

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