Leading in Wisdom

I began my professional career as an analyst – my goal was to elevate the quality of strategic thinking about a variety of issues. I came to realize that most complex problems certainly benefit from and may actually require collective intelligence. But some questions, particularly those that are fundamentally choices, require more than analytical intelligence – a list of pros and cons for example does not necessarily lead to a wise decision. This recognition has led me to actively explore how we can create the opportunity for collective wisdom to emerge. I shared the following practices recently at the In2:In Thinking conference on the Art of Reflection in a workshop on leading and acting with wisdom.

Recognizing the truth of Bill O’Brien’s observation that the quality of an intervention is a function of the internal condition of the intervener, we used dialogue walks to consider our own sources of wisdom, how we know when we’re centered in such wisdom, when we’re not, and how to return to this center.

We spent the next part of the day applying the Theory U Case Clinic tool (developed by Otto Scharmer) More resources are available at www.presencing.com

We spent the remainder applying the Seeing Things Whole round table process to a leadership challenge being faced by one of the participants. The other participants served as “temporary trustees” to support her in seeing her challenge from a variety of perspectives, while also offering some wise counsel. The first step was to clarify the challenge, using the STW workbook. She presented the challenge. The group set aside the challenge and used the following as catalysts for reflection:

I have heard that in a former time the gods
Used to come from heaven to earth
Out of love for womankind. That time has gone.
By the dried-up, burnt-up river and fields
Of this Baiśākh day, a peasant-girl
Pitifully entreats, ‘Come, send rain!’
She keeps on looking at the sky
With sad eyes, in pathetic expectation.
But rain does not come; the deaf wind
Impatiently drives away all clouds;
The sun licks up all moisture from the sky
With his fierce tongue. In the age of Kali,
Alas the gods have grown old. A girl’s
Plea can only be directed, now, at man.
“The Drought” by Rabindranath Tagore

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Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey:

To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, welcome, to accept.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking our words more seriously and discovering their true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.

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Kahlil Gibran, “On Children” (as sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock from their album, Breath.)

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The group made personal connections to the meaning these selections had in in their own lives, and then added connections that might be relevent to the person with the focus challenge question.

Finally, the group of trustees offered nine different reframes of the challenge based on the lenses in the Three-Fold Model of Organizational Life.

It was hard to escape the day without a definition of wisdom. Most conventional definitions refer to the accumulation of knowledge, and most do tie it to good judgement and action. But we all know that just getting old(er), doesn’t necessarily produce what we recognize as wisdom. Here’s one I like from Jack Kornfield in After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Wisdom is not information, but an abiding presence, an intuitive, sensing opening of the body and heart. In wisdom the body of fear drops away and our heart comes to rest. Like love, wisdom needs no explanation. Like the Tao, it brings harmony and ease.

In the secular world, my hope, particularly around tough issues and choices, is to create a container for an opening of the body, mind, heart and will, for not knowing, so that intelligent people can learn to act in service of a greater good that is only discovered by at least momentarily, humbly, letting go.

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