On the eve of the U.S. election with Brexit looming, we crave leaders with ‘wisdom’. Businesses particularly need leadership to guide them through uncertain rapidly changing times. But while charisma can be sensed and knowledge, skill and intelligence can be measured, wisdom is elusive.
Wise or unwise leaders are easy to spot after the event. But understanding the mysterious process that leads to wisdom is very difficult.
To help unravel the mystery, Warwick Business School is running a two-day executive program, Leading Wisely, in London, at Renzo Piano’s iconic Shard. Focusing on the development of wise leadership in a complex and uncertain environment, the program will examine different perspectives on modern leadership dilemmas in an interactive and experiential way, including exploring insights that great dramatists have brought to illuminate the wisdom or foolishness of leaders.
What exactly is wisdom? The Ancient Greek concept of Phronesis, often translated as ‘practical wisdom’ comes close. Aristotle describes it as “Having the right feelings at the right time on the right occasion towards the right people for the right purpose and in the right manner.” All modern leaders should aim for this but in a high velocity business context they often struggle.
Leadership calls on people to exercise their judgment, size up ambiguous situations, act on incomplete information, show integrity and courage, take initiative, face tough dilemmas, and be alert to behavioural nuances. For this leaders need subtle understanding, discerning perception, emotional intelligence, deep self-knowledge and, in a word, wisdom. Yet its attainment is inherently precarious.
Experience, ultimately, teaches us wisdom. But while wisdom cannot be taught, its characteristics can be explored, helping us to understand how wise decisions are made and how we can improve our judgment and the ways we make decisions. We can learn how to learn from experience.
The Leading Wisely program, run for the first time at WBS London, The Shard, uses case studies, drama performances and in-class exercises, to explore the core characteristics of wise leadership: the balancing of knowledge and ignorance, intuition and analysis, authenticity and indulgence, emotions and intellect, and of competing priorities and interests.
To lead wisely is not about applying particular techniques, but rather about the manifestation of a certain character. The program aims to show how such character may be developed. It does this both through analysis and in an experiential workshop, where participants are encouraged to reflect on past business experiences in such a way as to understand better their shape, their processes of formation, and their outcomes.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Aristotle
The Shard at Night (Photo courtesy The Shard)