The first management book I ever read was ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. It was a book I was told to go and read after attending my first leadership conference. A senior manager stood up on stage and held the book in his hands. I was young and wanted the answers to being the best I could be. Like Charlie who had found the last ‘Golden ticket’ for entry into Willie Wonkers’ chocolate factory, I went home that evening and bought the book and read it cover to cover. This would contain all the answers…
30 years later, I have read so many books and so many research papers about the key skills that make great leaders. Whilst many of them contain similar themes, there seems to be something significant missing…
What makes a great leader? This question has led to the writing of hundreds, if not thousands of books, across the world. Why? Well, the appetite for this knowledge seems to know no limits. We need leaders who can carry us forward in these uncertain times. And these times are certainly uncertain! Brands we grew up with have vanished. Trust in leaders is at an all time low within business , politics and the financial sector, despite the existence of robust ethics policies, that never existed decades ago.
Throughout history, we have examples from every civilisation and every time period, of leaders who achieved extraordinary things, such as Aristotle, Plato, Alexander the Great, Gandhi and Mother Theresa, to name just a few. When Mother Theresa left this world, on the 5th Sept 1997, India had a population of 990 million, yet across the world, we had all heard of this extraordinary human being, despite the lack of social media. Did she possess the skills that are written about in thousands of books of what makes great leadership? Whilst she could have been described as possessing empathy, caring, integrity and honesty, there was something else that she possessed. Wisdom. Wisdom is something that is attained through experience and thoughtfulness, through reflective practice. You will not see wisdom stated in any competency framework in business. You will not see wisdom as a requirement written down anywhere in corporate life. Yet the possession of wisdom in this uncertain time, is probably what is required now more than ever.
In my view, wisdom is a key component of true leadership. This means living in complete alignment to what you believe, and that belief has to have positive benefits to the wider world. True leadership must be about having a need to learn from each experience, to make sense of the world around you and to develop others. We need leaders who can impart their knowledge and share their experience with us; leaders that can teach us how to also make sense of the world.
How then do we go about creating wise leaders? Reflection. We spend so much time ‘doing’, as a measure of our value in this world, at the expense of ‘thinking’. Learning environments have the greatest possibilities of creating wise leaders. Taking time to reflect on what happened, what worked, what didn’t, but more importantly, why. This knowledge can help for the future and in more ways than might seem obvious at first.
Whilst what I may describe may seem impractical, one has to ask, what sort of world could we create, if our focus was on creating wise leaders, who could make a positive impact upon the people they lead and the world in which we live? Wouldn’t you want to work for a wise leader???