Oct 19, 2022

The quest for the wise ones

Tanvi Mankodi

The mosaic of leadership development theories has many interesting pieces and one of them that stands out is that of wisdom.  Our world today is characterized by uncertainties, complexities, unplanned changes, tectonic shifts in business, need for diversity and inclusivity, proliferation of technology, ethical infractions, dark leadership behaviours, social distancing, languishing, and ambiguities.  In such a climate, we generally tend to turn to voices of wisdom and sage advice, to those who seem to have found a method in the madness, a coping mechanism amidst the chaos.

When we think of wisdom, some of us may picture it as ‘knowledge gained through experience.’  In Eastern scriptures, wisdom is associated with sages or monks who have committed themselves to ‘sadhana´ or a disciplined attempt to gain knowledge.  Wise gurus are revered and their wisdom has been sought through the ages by emperors, leaders, and the common public.  In the contemporary context, wisdom has been viewed through different lenses by various researchers. There are certain common elements seen in various definitions of wisdom such as knowledge, intelligence, humility, emotional maturity, compassion, and a heightened understanding of life, in general.  Pop culture references of mentors and leaders such as Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, Gandalf, or those seen in mythology such as Saptarishi, Bhishma, or those from spirituality and religions such as Lord Buddha, the Dalai Lama or philosophers such as Confucius and Jung talk about the traits of wise leaders.

2020 was touted as a big idea, the year that would change everything for everyone, be it individuals, business, or society.  There was something alluring in the numbers.  They seemed to fill our minds with hopes and promise of a better life.  2020 did change everything for everyone, just not in the way, most of us would have imagined.  And now, two years later, the world is trying to get a sure footing as we dawdle into the ‘new normal.’  The pandemic disrupted the way we crafted our jobs, the way we viewed work arrangements, and the manner of working, in general too, amongst other things. Leaders globally have had to course correct to include remote working, flexible and gig styles of working, and a renewed focus on basic safety and hygiene in their agendas for the future of their organizations.  Wisdom, in leaders, is not a new find or suggestion, it has always existed and philosophers, guides, coaches, mentors, leaders, across the globe and across time have sought its tenets and tried to incorporate them in their lives. The ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta talks about a wise person as one who understands their inter-connectedness with the whole Universe and therefore realizes that their individual actions have an impact on those around them.  Wise leaders accept this aspect of their role and therefore think about ‘stakeholders’ of the business, thus extending the impact to not just customers and employees but environment, competitors, allies and partners, and society at large.

Wisdom can be transferred and hence does not necessarily remain just a trait that only a few chosen ones are blessed with.  Wise leadership can be taught, developed, practiced, enhanced, and improved upon with collective knowledge and experience.  In the present context of moral ambiguity and heightened intolerance, the conative capabilities of wise individuals can be nurtured to shape their moral sensitivity and judgment. These when captured through appropriate measures can set the stage for a more nuanced approach to understanding and developing morality as a virtue in leaders across cultures and contexts.  We opine that wisdom is what drives value-based growth, encourages a spirit of oneness and inter-connectedness, and leads to an acceptance of situation to take the best action and even drive innovation.  We understand that leadership theories and leadership development practices are a variegated canvas to begin with, and wisdom is a significant part of the design, though relatively unexplored. We are inundated with stories of fraying morals, unethical acts as norms than exceptions, and a general derailment of human values and decency in the business world and by its extension, the society.  At first blush, our world may seem a bitter place to  be in, but we also have stories of hope and faith and kindness seen through random acts of strangers as well as deliberate efforts put in by individuals and organizations towards creating better lives for those around them. We want to use the tools available through research, thought leadership, conversations, practical insights, and classroom training to put forth ‘wise leadership’ as an effective way to move forward.

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