If you aspire to be a great leader, you need to develop wisdom.
Wisdom is the application of accumulated knowledge and experience. Contrary to what you might think, wisdom has little to do with age. We have all known younger people described as wise beyond their years, and many of us know a few old fools. The truth is, wisdom is attained bit by bit throughout our lifetime, but it must be pursued.
The following practices will accelerate your walk toward wisdom:
Do a self evaluation: Look in the mirror and be truthful to yourself. Think about what’s really working — and not working — in your life and career. Consider your strengths: How can you leverage them? Reflect on your weaknesses: How can you minimize them? Are you adding value to your life, your organization and the world? Self evaluation isn’t easy, but it is a necessary starting point to pursue wisdom. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Get honest feedback: No matter how insightful we try to be during self evaluation, we all have a limited view of ourselves. To gain proper perspective, we must ask others for feedback. This can be done formally or informally. My associate Rick Tate always used to say, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” I love that! Ask friends and colleagues at every level for their honest feedback on how you have been doing. Encourage them to be frank. Ask them what you should start doing, what you should keep doing and what you should stop doing.
Keep in mind even the most straightforward people will divulge only about 90 percent of what they are thinking. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve always had several people in my life who care enough to tell me the whole truth by giving me that last 10 percent. It’s important to have a handful of these truth tellers around to really keep yourself in check.
If you don’t think there are many folks around you who will be completely honest, maybe you should think about how you react when you receive feedback. One of the differences between great and self-serving leaders is the way they respond to feedback. Self-serving people get defensive and will often blame the messenger. Those earnestly pursuing wisdom will simply say, “Thank you. That’s really helpful. Is there anything else I should know?” or, “Tell me more.”
Great leaders will encourage the other person to give that extra 10 percent of feedback. They want to be sure they get the full truth so they can learn from the experience.
Seek counsel from others: Besides doing a thorough self evaluation and being open to honest feedback, seek out the counsel of those with more wisdom and experience than you. Remember: feedback is about the past and counsel is about the future. My friend Marshall Goldsmith has a great seminar exercise where he has people stand up, walk around the room and talk to each other about something they would like to accomplish that year. He has participants ask others, “Do you have any advice for me?” Everyone gets advice and counsel from 10 to 12 people.
No matter what level of leader you may be, you will benefit from working with a mentor — particularly someone who is further down the road than you are. Borrow that person’s wisdom and experience. Ask profound, open-ended questions such as, “What decisions in your life have made the greatest contribution to your success?” “What books have had the greatest impact on you?” “What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your career?” Ask your mentors these kinds of questions and really listen to their answers. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn.
Give it time: Keep in mind that you won’t become wise overnight. Walking toward wisdom is a lifelong journey. With every step you take, you’re that much closer to leading in a way that will make a positive and profound impact on the world.
Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author, speaker and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.