We live and work in an age of extreme uncertainty and severe disruption. More than in recent memory, people seek clarity, guidance, support, and coherence. Perhaps more than ever, there is a need for effective leadership—and essential leadership wisdom—in meeting the needs of people, organizations, and communities.
Leadership wisdom is the integrated use of awareness, experience, and insight to set direction, empower people, support wellbeing, and guide activity for lasting impact. Based on hundreds of experiences with organizations and their leaders, there are four timeless pillars of leadership wisdom.
Pillar 1: Wise leaders develop and apply an effective perception of reality. They understand we are interdependent in a relational world, and believe diversity and inclusion are essential to expand awareness, broaden perspective, and gain critical insight. They apply a panoramic view to scan the landscape, study the dynamic environment, recognize patterns, and see total systems. Aware of their own conditioned biases and cognitive distortions, they process information without unhelpful judging, filtering, or motivated reasoning.
Pillar 2: Wise leaders shape a climate of trust through personal integrity. They are candid and honest, while also optimistic about the future. They pursue the truth in good faith and are open to changing their mind. They share information, do not lie or omit information on purpose, and do not minimize or magnify reality. Receptive to new ideas they may not agree with or did not originate, they encourage feedback, are sincere in acting on feedback, and close the loop with people on why action was or was not taken.
Pillar 3: Wise leaders create the conditions for people to do their best work with dignity. They communicate the mission-driven strategy, key priorities, and path forward. They empower people through clear performance expectations, desired behaviors, and cultural norms. Managing at the proper altitude given the situation, they align, coordinate, and guide activity to achieve results. They give people information, resources, and discretion to do their work using good processes the people themselves help to create and improve.
Pillar 4: Wise leaders personify the spirit of positive equanimity. They welcome every situation as an opportunity to learn and serve, and show a calm, composed, and dignified attitude of appreciating each life experience. With an alert awareness, they are both deliberate and agile, less automatic, and more intentional. Comfortable with impermanence as the natural state, they demonstrate the mindful practice of continuous flow: being present, resisting distractions, navigating situations, and staying focused on what matters most.
The pillars of leadership wisdom rise from a shared foundation of humility and empathy. Wise leaders become more open to, and less critical of, the struggles of the human condition. They do not denigrate, humiliate, or manipulate people. They know the deepest truth that cruelty is weakness and kindness is strength. They sincerely care about the wellbeing of people and support good practices for healthy mind, body, and spirit.
Leadership wisdom develops from the continuous learning cycle of active engagement, objective observation, and deep contemplation. As the nature of leadership evolves, wise leaders are essential for long-term success of an enterprise and the conscious evolution of our world.