Wisdom. It is one of the many words that are used to describe leadership. Yet, it is typically not something that we as leaders have innately. Wisdom is something that coalesces from a variety of other aspects of a leader’s education. Wisdom is derived from book knowledge, observation, experience, and reflection. Wisdom is as not simple as the abridged definition “the quality or state of being knowledgeable with just judgement.”
As leaders, the easy part of gaining wisdom comes from the many hours of learning our technical craft. We spend hours gaining the technical skills of our chosen professions: going to class, taking training courses, reading the current literature, etc. We also have honed our skills of observation: watching other leaders, learning individuals, understanding group dynamics, etc. But, have we become wise?
This is an interesting question. Stop and take a moment to visualize a wise person. What images come immediately to mind? For some, it is a yogi or a guru sitting atop a mountain. For some, it is an owl. For others, it may be a specific person, but that person is generally older, and quiet. We have a vision of what it takes to be wise or full of wisdom. Yet, there is no manual or recipe or real guidance document. Sure, you can Google the question “how to become wise,” (and you will get 23,800,000 hits) but these are suggestions and starting points. There is not a single recipe or set of steps that you can follow that will have you waking up tomorrow as a wise person. Sure, you may be a bit wiser than you were today but it is never a completed project. (It is probably a topic that can have some intellectuals researching for years.)
This doesn’t mean that we can’t become wise nor develop wisdom. All it means is that wisdom comes from our willingness and openness to new experiences, new ideas, and listening to different points of view. Wisdom is derived from our personal situations, our challenges, and the environment or circumstances that have occurred over time. Even then, a leader may not become wise as there is still something missing. The missing item is reflection.
One cannot learn from our experiences and environments without taking the time to reflect and ask questions about them. How do we begin to listen to another point of view? We ask questions. We investigate. We may still disagree, but we are actively learning how someone else approaches the same situation. We learn to be active listeners. Yet, do we listen to ourselves. Do we note our own conflicts? Do we ask ourselves questions?
We have to make time for the reflection. And, we have to have some way of reflecting. So, how can you as a leader begin to develop this habit of reflection? Well, there is a technique that is widely used and for some of us it is something that is a bit of struggle – journaling. Yes, remember that creative journal that your English composition teacher tried to get you to start? It may be one method of helping you develop wisdom in your life. Sure, you have heard of creative writers journaling, but the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? You probably have even read excerpts from some journals from famous individuals in history like George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson. But what about J.P. Morgan? Sure you know that they kept “diaries” of appointments or notes – but did they journal? We may or may not know.
Why start a journal? The typical reasons for journaling include:
- Journals help you articulate thoughts and ideas
- Journals help you clear the mental clutter
- Journals help you track your own personal growth
- Journals promote creativity
You can do a quick search and find a host of other reasons. But from a straight forward and simplistic perspective – journals allow you the time for reflection. It is this reflection time that is the important aspect of developing wisdom.
How do you start and what should you write? The first step is to pick a medium – computer, paper and pen, etc. Personally, I am fond of the paper and pen method as for me, it is more personal. It is engaging. And, I am interacting with my thoughts. (Now, I do use a smart pen which does allow me to store my journals electronically.) But, I have used a number of different media over the years – including some of the new apps. I have also found that I am much happier keeping everything in the same place, i.e. my daily appointments, to-do lists, and journal all in the same book. It simplifies things for me and if I have an idea I don’t have to figure out which book to put it in.
What to write? This is the personal part of the journal and may be highly dependent on the time of day when you chose to journal. There are times that I journal in the morning as I am preparing for the day and my reflections may be about my goals for that day. Or, if in the evening, they may be about something that I learned, noticed or was troubled by during the day. I may reflect on a reading throughout the day, which is why I like my journal all in one. I journal about new words, a line in a book, something I heard on the radio or something that I could have handled better. It really doesn’t matter what you write, it is about taking the time to sit quietly and reflect.
Confucius said that the noblest way to learn wisdom is by reflection. Margaret Wheatley reminds us that without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and fail to achieve anything useful. The journal is a means of providing that bit of reflection that is needed to help us develop into the leaders we need to be.
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