Perhaps, to many readers, the title of this piece could be provocative. The reaction is appreciated, given the current conditions that we live in, there seems to be no co- relationship between leadership and wisdom. Any leadership shunned of wisdom ceases to have any semblance to sanity and stability. Both these elements remain in gross short supply for many decades now. The demands of wisdom always exceed the body of knowledge possessed by any individual.
Leadership, as a concept, is as wide as the vastness of imagination. It has no boundaries. The canopy of leadership is extremely expansive; it begins with being Leader of ‘own self ‘ to being a leader ‘to and of others’. Being a leader confers prominence. This elevation is accorded by the followers. The attestation of accepting, by followers,any person as a leader, is the first step towards acquiring the status of being a leader.
Leadership is acquired by either election or nomination. Such leadership is de jure in its nature. It is a legally recognised position. In the world of politics, it is by election that leaders are created (Note, they are not born; unless the political leadership is hereditary). By dint of sheer hard work, relating to service towards the community, leaders emerge on the scene. Such situations where leadership is acquired by popular vote there is no certification required of the need to possess certain minimum traits of leadership that are universally recognised and accepted. A leader catapults into authoritative positions through majority vote. Anything less than 100 percent favourable vote gives birth to opposition -- an alternate leader. If the equation is as distorted as we currently saw in the local body elections in Sindh, then such an elected leader is representative of only a miniscule percentage of the population/electorate. Such elections don’t necessarily bring forth leadership, that has all the basic traits of acceptable standards of leadership. The dejure leadership in the arena of politics does not provide assurance of qualities that are needed like being a visionary, with excellent communication skills, a strategist, a planner, an organiser, etc.
As against the political sphere, in the corporate world, the de jure position demands authorisation, consent and approval of several internal and external parties. For a limited company, listed or otherwise, the board that is constituted in accordance with the requirements of the Code Of Corporate Governance of SECP, chooses and appoints, the leader --- that is the CEO or by whatever designation/title, the company recognises the numero uno position. To be given approval by the regulatory bodies, like, SECP, SBP, etc, the individual (leader) has to meet the ‘fit and proper criteria'. The demands of this fitness are built around education, experience and to some degree, reputation. The board tick marks the requirements before it applies for approval, to the regulatory bodies.
Leaders are not born ( Pakistan and other developing countries where nepotism rules the roost are an exception). Leaders are made. The take here, then would be, who makes for a Leader? The board in its sole judgement nominates the CEO/leader. In their assessment and evaluation, they (BOD) look at age, experience (levels of authority and responsibility), its diversity, technical competence and several other personality traits. To assess these there are credentials to look at like certificates of educational qualifications and trainings to develop/improve personality traits, etc. The single important element that no individual or the board can assess and certify is the quality and trait of ‘wisdom’.
No individual is skilled in all disciplines, everyone has unique and special excellence. The best navigator is one that can keep the waves and winds on his side. All leadership traits, barring wisdom can be acquired by training and can be imparted through development. Wisdom is a quality, which may be acquired by experience or it can be a blessing from divinity. The wise-acres or the sages, went to no universities, nor did they have any formal schooling, but they were immensely blessed with ‘wisdom’.
Is wisdom a necessary trait for leadership? To answer in contradiction, it will be foolish to think or consider a leader or leadership devoid of wisdom. In any manager, learning and wisdom must dwell together. Sometimes the brunt caused by suffering brings a lot of wisdom. Regrettably, absolute foolishness sometimes suggests to many managers/leaders that they are the wisest. This delusional thinking is best captured by William Shakespeare in, 'As You Like It'; ‘the fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’.
Wisdom is neither inheritance nor legacy. Wisdom seeks silence. It resides in the placid and pacific waters. It has been said in the annals of human history, quite sagaciously, knowledge speaks, while wisdom's privilege is to listen. Freedom of speech and wisdom rarely make good friends. Some leaders pride themselves in speaking their mind, and unfortunately end up saying ‘whatever’ comes to their mind. This is perilous.
Experience heralds wisdom. Expression leads to repentance, most often; listening always confers either wisdom or at least a false impression of being wise. Wisdom is free; it costs nothing, it favours none; it is not against any. Wisdom can be had by all, if only, it is sought. Goodness is wisdom. Goodness speaks through actions and it is actions that judge the quality of wisdom. One cannot be trained for wisdom but wisdom can be shared. There is no tuition for wisdom. Life, and living it , is wisdom.
Wisdom is built and acquired upon the wreckage of experience. Intellect is considered to be relative to the mind , while wisdom associates itself with the heart. Wisdom is a non tangible facet and is non communicable, while intellect can be bolstered through higher levels of knowledge and learning. Precisely for this reason, Wisdom is not a subject on offer at educational institutions.
Wisdom and virtue are invariably synchronised in a good leader. It is obviously presumed that the nominations to leadership positions in the corporate world is dependent upon possessing all the needed skills and competence to professionally and profitably run the institution; besides of course demonstrable managerial attitude and business acumen, covering both the personality traits and the experience, that is critically necessary to hold the office. If the CEO position relates to a financial institution then the clearance has to come from several ‘agencies’. ‘It requires wisdom to understand wisdom’; the music is nothing, if the audience is deaf’ (Walter Lippmann). Not everybody, but only the wise can play the fool.
Lack of wisdom in a leader can be a very seriously dangerous affliction. Knowledge and information falsely and foolishly lead to arrogance and pride; wisdom provides for humility, because it recognises one knows no more. Fools pretend to have found wisdom but the wise seek it out. The wise are flexible, malleable and willing to change while fools are obstinate and insecure. 'The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in his heart' (Benjamin Franklin).
Jim Stovall in his book, ‘Wisdom Of The Ages’ in the conclusive chapter, mentions how the king, after meeting many people of pre-eminence in their respective fields of enquiry, failed to discover wisdom. A young girl in the arena where the intelligentsia is gathered to debate and define wisdom , and having failed miserably in that, mentions that she has a medallion, given as part of the only heirloom her grandmother gave, which the little girl felt provides a perfect answer to what wisdom is! An old man, familiar with the outdated language is called upon by the king to decipher and read... And he reads from the mediation, ‘wisdom is the daily bread of life. It is only good for one person for one day at a time. The fool will not seek wisdom, because he feels he already has it; the wise will always seek wisdom because he knows he does not. Wisdom is not in having. Wisdom is in seeking. Always seek wisdom, and ye shall have it’.
The successive control and demolition of negative traits, like say the temper, is a sign of growing wisdom. Corporate leaders need wisdom , as much as any other type of leadership. Through wisdom alone emerges their actions, beliefs and values.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist