You may be smart, but are you wise?
When I think of wise leaders, I think of people like Max De Pree (about whom I wrote in last week’s blog), or Warren Buffet, the “Sage of Omaha.” These are individuals we can admire and trust, not only because they’ve consistently delivered value for shareholders, but also because they’ve positively impacted their employees, communities, and families. Their lives are rich in things money cannot buy.
While we can’t all become famous for our wisdom, we can each become wiser tomorrow than we are today. Here are 10 things you can do to start yourself on the path toward becoming a wiser person:
Know What You Don’t Know
Be humble. No one person has all the best answers, ideas, or solutions. Wisdom, strangely enough, requires the foundation of knowing the limits of our own knowledge. This is what Socrates meant when he said, “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”
Read, Read, Read
Read everything—scientific journals, business magazines, novels, blogs, essays, poetry, scripture, newspapers, biographies, etc. Reading helps us appreciate and recognize the complexity of the world. Reading plants new ideas in our minds. Reading allows us to think beyond ourselves and our own experiences. Reading helps us to understand the past and predict the future. All of these things are traits of the wise.
Shut Up and Listen
Listening well is hard, but wise people are masters at it. They have trained themselves to put aside their prejudices and biases in order to receive and interpret a message from someone else. Wise people pick up on hints and read between the lines.
Sometimes reality can be painful to encounter. Facing it on our terms requires shedding comfortable illusions and convenient lies. We need to be honest about situations, relationships, motivations, failures, abilities, opportunities, and the nature of the world in general.
Getting New Perspectives
Wise people consider problems and situations from many different angles. This can be done imaginatively or with the help of someone else. Different perspectives can reveal silver linings and solutions impossible to see from a single, limited perspective.
See Beauty in All Its Forms
Nothing is lost on a wise person, especially beauty. Learn to recognize beauty in paintings, words, nature, furniture, and the finely crafted fender of a classic car. If you find it hard to appreciate something that someone else can appreciate, it probably just means that you don’t know enough about it yet.
Ask why. Then ask why again. Be curious. Refuse easy answers and easy explanations and dig deeper with good questions. Take the Socratic approach.
Gain Broad Knowledge
A deep specific knowledge is extremely helpful, but wise people also know at least a little about a lot of things. A wise person is a well-rounded person.
It’s no coincidence that the wisest people have gray hair. There is no substitute for life experience. Learning from and experiencing life without getting cynical or bitter is the key.
Find Your Mentor
Wise people don’t build wisdom from scratch; they collect much of it from those who are further ahead of them in life. Find someone who is older than you that you respect, and then learn from them. Allow them to teach and challenge you.
Becoming wise does not guarantee that you’ll become rich or happy. It won’t make your life or leadership easier. But it will make you a better person and a better, more respected leader.
That being said, would you rather be a rich fool or a poor sage?
I don’t know how you would answer this question, but I do know how Warren Buffet and Max De Pree would.