Leaders are expected to be the smartest people in the room. At the end of the day, they are the ones who must be the problem solvers, the ones who make the decisions, the ones who must find the best means of implementing the strategy given the constraints within the organization. How is that done? It comes from the leader’s WISDOM.
Wisdom must begin with knowledge, of course. Studies have shown that effective leaders are life-long learners. Knowledge builds an important base of competency. However, wisdom is more than knowledge, because knowing implies understanding, but wisdom implies application.
Of course, reading about wisdom will not make oneself wise. Wisdom comes from practice, but rather than learning from mistakes, it is better to know what to look for to prevent the mistakes. A good place to start would be with Peter Krass’ edited work, Leadership Wisdom: Classic Writings by Legendary Business Leaders. This is a compilation of essays from such individuals as Bill Gates (Microsoft founder), Akito Morita (founder of Sony), Michael Eisner (CEO, Disney), etc.
The benefit of a book like this is that it illustrates clearly that real leaders must learn to think outside the box. The question remains, how does a person learn to do that? Two excellent sources of creative thinking are Edward de Bono and Robert Sternberg. De Bono, a native of Malta, is an Oxford professor whose work in lateral thinking (e.g. Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step) has greatly helped a number of ‘non-creative’ people think differently. For those that may prefer a more comprehensive approach, Sternberg, from the United States, offers a seminal work in Handbook of Creativity. Both of these writers have helped me tremendously understand how creativity works, and how I can be more creative in my thought process.
However, the most talked-about book in leadership cognition comes from a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Israeli-American by the name of Daniel Kahneman. His recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, outlines that we have two mental systems at work in our minds. System 1 is mostly unconscious and generally makes snap judgments, whereas System 2 is more conscious and hence, slow. Since System 1 works quicker, and is motivated by emotion, it hinders the more deliberate thought process of System 2 that true rational cognition needs.
Good leaders somehow master this apparent mental incompatibility. The key is to ‘think about your thinking.’ This is why Jesus was such an incredibly good teacher – he did just that. He asked questions, provoked thought, forced people to consider their presuppositions and conclusions. Real wisdom comes from one that knows the truth and lives it out. Would that all our leaders would discover wisdom!