Becoming a Sage by Seeking Wisdom

Jann FreedLeading, Sage-ing Leave a Comment

One of my favorite words is “wisdom” probably because we think of Sages as having wisdom.  In fact, I like the phrase “becoming a sage” so much that this is the title of my monthly podcast series (on the second Friday of each month).

You may be familiar with Krista Tippett, the public radio host of On Being (and newsletter with the same title) and the author of Becoming Wise:  An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living.  As a result from reading her book and from reading articles about her book, I have been thinking a lot about wisdom these days and how we need as much wisdom in the world as possible right now.

But what is wisdom?

In previous blog posts about this topic, I have shared that wisdom often comes from processing our life experiences.  In workshops, people have asked me if you have to be old to be wise.  My response is No.  You can be old and not wise or you can be young and wise and I often use the example of the main character in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  How was he able to answer the quiz questions on the game show?  He processed his many life experiences–and often not positive experiences.

Tippett has found through her many interviews with a variety of people that wisdom can be attained.  “Wisdom is not a possession you can point to as much as it is a way that a life has of imprinting the lives around it.  If we think about the wisest people we’ve known, it’s how they affect others, how they change others, calm others, ground others.”

In a recent article in Fast Company, Tippett shares five truths for leading with insight and all leaders should want to “lead with insight.”

  •  Politeness isn’t always productive.  Approach difficult conversations with civility and an openness to disagreement (not always easy to do).  Try to find common ground by asking questions such as:  “What do we all care about?”  or “How can we find solutions that address shared concerns?”
  • There’s no such thing as meaningless work.  Create a sense of purpose for employees by also focusing on “the process, and the culture, and the ethos” that go into the end product or service.
  • You can’t separate work and life.  “A hallmark of wisdom is an acknowledgement of the fullness and complexity of what it means to be human.”  People bring their whole selves to work and don’t want to or should have to check their values and convictions at the door.  Find forums for people to express themselves in healthy ways.
  • Warmth is not weakness.  In giving constructive feedback, be honest with kindness. When people do something well, tell them.  Everyone likes to feel appreciated.
  • Everything needs time.  It is OK to show vulnerability and growing pains take time to learn from mistakes.  “Sometimes we get wise not by trying new things, but by recovering old things we knew and then forgot. The willingness to show weakness is crucial to the humanity of an organization.”

These are themes similar to what emerged for my leadership book Leading With Wisdom:  Sage Advice from 100 Experts.    From interviewing more than 100 Sages, I learned:

  • Vulnerability is a strength.  If you have made a mistake, most people know it.  Admit it and realize that leaders don’t have all of the answers.  Learn from others.
  • Your ego is not your amigo.  When ego gets out of the way, there is room for wisdom to emerge.
  • We are who we are at work and at home.  If we are authentic, we don’t separate life from work.  To be a good leader, we have to be a good person.
  • Leadership development is personal development.  If we are going to be good people, we have to do the inner work necessary to know when our ego is in our way of being effective.

I continue to interview people for my podcast series and for articles.  One of my main conclusions is this:  Curiosity is the key to living a great life regardless of age.  When we are curious, we keep learning, asking questions, and caring about others, places, and things.

The world needs wise and curious people now more than ever.

What and who are you curious about?

What would you like to learn? 

When will you have more time than you have right now?