As I continue on with the lessons from Great Leaders Grow, my latest book written with Mark Miller, you may notice that all three of the previously mentioned areas in which leaders must grow—gaining knowledge, reaching out to others, and opening your world—are lifelong pursuits. Our fourth way to assure growth as a leader, Walk Toward Wisdom, is no different. The pursuit of wisdom never ends for those who aspire to leadership.
Wisdom can be defined as the application of accumulated knowledge and experience. Contrary to what you might think, wisdom really has nothing to do with age. We all have known younger people who might be described as “wise beyond their years,” and many of us probably can say we know a few “old fools.” The truth is, wisdom is attained, bit by bit, throughout our lifetime. It’s always within our reach, but it must be pursued. The walk toward wisdom should include these elements:
Self Evaluation – First, slow down, look in the mirror, and be truthful with yourself. What’s working and what’s not working? What are your strengths and how can you better leverage them? What are your weaknesses and how can you minimize them? How are you adding value to your life, your organization, the world? Self evaluation isn’t easy, but it is a necessary starting point for pursuing wisdom. We all have blind spots and things we don’t know but need to learn about ourselves. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” And even Shakespeare referred to self evaluation when he wrote, “To thine own self be true.”
Honest Feedback – Feedback helps us learn from our past. No matter how candid you try to be during your self evaluation, you’ll never be able to overcome your own bias and perspective, so you must ask others for feedback. This can be done either formally or informally. My associate Rich Case always used to say that feedback is the breakfast of champions—I love that! So ask your colleagues at every level for honest feedback on how you have been doing. Encourage them to be frank. Ask them what you should start doing, what you should keep doing, and what you should stop doing.
A word to the wise: Typically, even folks who are honest with their feedback will tell you only about 90 percent. Yes, they tell you the truth, but don’t always give you that last 10 percent. Both Mark Miller and I have always had a few people who care enough to tell us the whole truth by giving us that last 10 percent. It’s important to have at least a handful of these “truth tellers” in your life to keep you in check.
Whether you are successful at getting people to give you honest feedback has a lot to do with how you react when feedback is given. One of the ways you can tell the difference between great leaders and self-serving leaders is the way they respond to feedback. Self-serving people get very protective and defensive, because they think they already know the truth, and will often “kill the messenger.” But you can always tell when someone wants to learn from feedback, because when you give that person feedback the first thing he or she will say is, “Thank you. That’s really helpful. Is there anything else I should know?” or simply, “Tell me more.” Great leaders will actually encourage the other person to give that extra 10 percent of feedback. They want to be sure they are getting everything out of that person. Self-serving leaders don’t want to hear feedback at all.
Next week I’ll talk about the last aspect of walking toward wisdom and have some final words about Great Leaders Grow. In the meantime, I’d love it if you would leave a comment and share how you are choosing to grow as a leader, either in the workplace or at home.