According to Socrates “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Bearing in mind the complexity and ambiguity of the modern business world, today’s business leaders would do well to approach their task with such Socratic humility, and if not with “true wisdom” they must at least aspire to be much wiser.
So where should leaders turn to wise-up? This book from Prasad Kaipa, a CEO coach and advisor and a senior fellow at the Indian School of Business and Navi Radjou, an independent strategy consultant, a fellow of Judge Business School and a faculty member of the World Economic Forum takes the premise that from Enron’s Kenneth Lay to Barclays’ Bob Diamond we wrongly mistook smart leadership for wise leadership, and secondly that to be sustainably successful organizations need to strive to serve a higher “noble purpose” a purpose that transcends short term profit maximization, and that to do this organizations need wise leaders.
The authors contend that smart business leaders too often look at the world through lenses or filters that skew or limit their perspective, causing them to act on autopilot. These leaders need to gain a broader outlook to make better, wiser decisions. To shift perspective and get out of their comfort zones and evolve to a higher level they need to do something counter-intuitive: they need to take off their "smart glasses."
“When we appreciate and embrace the objective world as it is—in its full range of colors, so to speak—and bridge the gap between our subjective reality and the rest of the world, we become capable of wisdom.”
Differentiating between smart and wise perspectives is the first step. To take this further and cultivate wise leadership skills the book expounds on several capabilities business leaders should practice to gain practical wisdom. These include: “using values and ethics to guide smartness towards serving a noble purpose, acting authentically and appropriately, learning when to lead and when to let others lead, deciding with discernment, knowing when to hold on and when to let go, and cultivating enlightened self-interest.”
Confucius said there are three ways to gain wisdom: by reflection, by imitation, and by experience. Kaipa and Radjou have evoked all three ways. Reflection in that their important ideas are deeply influenced by Eastern thought and notions of self-reflection; imitation in so far as they offer Warren Buffett, Ratan Tata, Oprah Winfrey, Narayana Murthy etc. as contemporary leaders who have “found ways to apply practical wisdom in their businesses and made their companies highly successful”; and experience in that the co-authors, both based in Silicon Valley, bring extensive personal experience from their work with senior leaders. From Smart to Wise takes the intangible concept of wisdom, brings it to life, gives it context and offers practical ways for all leaders and would-be leaders to develop wisdom—or at least be much wiser.
From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom, Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou, is published by Jossey-Bass, April 2013, ISBN 978-1-118-29620-2