“He’s clueless,” Alan said to his peer, Tracy as they walked out of the meeting.
Alan had gone into his presentation to his VP, Amir thinking it was in the bag. What in his mind should have been a slam dunk turned out to be 30 minutes of inquisition-like questions, debating of assumptions, and skepticism of his solution, all followed by a “We’re not going to do this.”
“I just can’t believe how out of touch he is,” Alan continued. “The solution is as plain as the nose on his face, and he can’t see beyond his own incompetence!”
Tracy was quiet as the two walked and Alan continued to sputter. After a few minutes, Alan couldn’t help but notice Tracy’s silence.
“What do you think?” Alan asked.
“How about we go in the conference room and chat,” Tracy said.
“Sure.” Alan had always respected Tracy’s judgment and how she commanded the respect of not just peers and followers, but also her management. The two went into the conference room, Alan shut the door, and they sat.
“Alan, you’re incredibly bright and very passionate about your work.”
“But. . .” Alan said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“You haven’t yet mastered how to sell up.”
Brent was having a routine one-on-one with his boss Gail in her office. Over the six months since joining her organization, Brent noticed something different about Gail compared to his past bosses.
“Gail, can I ask you a question?” Brent asked.
“When you share your wisdom with others you are so transparent, even willing to admit when you were wrong about something. That’s very different from other bosses I’ve had. How did you get there?”
“Good question,” she said. “I learned a long time ago that wisdom is extremely valuable. Seeking and sharing it can make the difference between success and failure. Because I deeply care about not only my success but the success of others, I decided I needed to be willing to not just seek wisdom from others but candidly share my wisdom with others to improve their chances of success. I adopted what I call a wisdom steward mindset.”
“Wisdom steward?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gail said just as her phone beeped. She looked at the message. “Darn, I need to prep something for the board meeting in an hour. Can we continue the wisdom steward discussion at our one-on-one next week?”
“Sure,” Brent said.
“OK, see you later then.”
Brent got up and went back to his cubicle. “A wisdom steward?” he thought to himself as he sat in his chair.
So the older I get the more I think about the lessons I’ve learned in my career. Oh, to go back in time and talk to my younger self about the boneheaded things I did. Sadly, my younger self probably wouldn’t have listened to any imparted wisdom (which I define as knowledge coupled with experience). I was recklessly confident—I didn’t think I would get burned by touching the stove, no matter how many before me got burnt.
Ah, the naivete of youth.
What I’ve come to realize is that learning hard lessons doesn’t mean I have to experience them first-hand. It’s far less physically, emotionally and financially painful to learn from others. This has led me to an important conclusion--there are two paths to wisdom. The first is experiential wisdom, where I know the stove is hot because I touched it. The second is inherited wisdom, where I believe someone with credibility when they tell me the stove is hot. I could have saved myself a lot of time, stress, and money if I understood and practiced inherited wisdom.
In my zeal to help those still climbing the career mountain, following are my 12 wisdom nuggets to help others avoid experiential wisdom and replace it with inherited wisdom.
So let's cut to the chase...
You may be a great consultant, one who effectively applies his or her wisdom and experience to help his or her client solve some tough business problem. That's all fine and well. When it comes to facilitation, though, it's a different ballgame and a very different approach to problem solving. I like to think of the difference as follows:
As leaders we have a responsibility to ensure that our area is managed effectively and that we are driving the organization to achieve its stated objectives. We also have a responsibility to grow the next generation of leaders to ensure that the great work we've done continues on after we've moved on. Keep some of these nuggets in mind as you ponder making the next generation of leaders great:
As a small business owner I’ve had many many discussions with colleagues about my products and services. Throughout these discussions I have gleaned some outstanding pieces of advice about things I should be focusing on and ideas that I should be pursuing. I also have been on the receiving end of some pretty random ideas which may have had some merit in the eyes of the beholder but just didn't seem to fit well with the direction that I want to take the business. One colleague of mine got pretty peeved with me because I wasn't executing upon his advice. The truth is, his advice just didn't align with the other advice I was getting and didn't fit well with the direction that I want to go. I stuck with my spider-senses and didn't execute upon his advice.
Over the years I have been on both ends of constructive (and not so constructive) criticism. Quite frankly, I still struggle with doing this flawlessly every time, but I've put together some guiding principles that I try to work under and thought might be helpful to you:
Some time back I had a situation where two employees of mine were looking for me to cut them some slack on a commitment that they made but didn’t deliver upon. They threw every lame excuse in the book at me; it was one excuse of “my dog ate my homework” after another. After their lobbying me I decided to not cut them any slack; they didn’t meet a commitment because they didn’t perform. In both situations, I am pretty sure that both of these employees wanted to chuck me out of the highest window they could find. Well, I guess I'll just need to stay away from tall buildings, because I did the right thing.
As a young consultant I really thought I had it all together. I was getting great ratings, great raises, and wonderful accolades from clients. Because I (in my own mind) thought I was such hot stuff, I was not active in seeking out advice from more experienced colleagues. After all, what could they teach me?
As I matured from an inexperienced hot-shot to an experienced manager, I developed a much stronger appreciation for the wisdom my more experienced colleagues could impart. This appreciation didn’t happen naturally; I had to get my butt chewed off a bunch of times to realize that a wiser and more experienced colleague could help me get through the tough times and learn from my mistakes. I also needed a wiser colleague to hold a mirror up to my face to help me see my weaknesses. I needed (and still need) a mentor to help me be more effective as a leader.
Whether for personal or professional reasons, having a mentor to turn to for advice and counsel is a very effective means of transforming knowledge into wisdom. Before I go any further, let’s get a definition of wisdom in place:
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