Effective Leadership Redefined: From Smart to Wise

By: Connie Blaszczyk, Managing Editor, Monster Resource Center

Great leadership has always depended on intelligence and savvy.

But in today’s increasingly complex global world, being smart is not enough to lead successfully, say Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou, authors of From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom (Jossey-Bass, 2013.)

Following the success of Radjou’s previous book, Jugaad Innovation, the authors present a compelling argument for why today’s leaders need practical wisdom to uncover the potential benefits within complexity that create new value for their organizations.

In this Monster interview, Prasad Kaipa explains what it takes to be a wise leader, and why serving a larger purpose is often the path to success in an increasingly interdependent world.

Monster: What inspired From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom?

Prasad: When I was at Apple, I was asked to look at how people learn, think, create, lead and communicate so that we could design tools that augment human intelligence.

In that process, I found that there are two kinds of learning – one that leads to information that is linear, sequential and teachable. The other kind of learning leads to wisdom and that is non-linear and not-teachable and more subjective.

In working with executives over past 23 years of coaching and executive education, I felt that we can document some practices, stories, principles and perspectives that lead to wisdom and that led to the book From Smart to Wise.

Monster: You encourage readers to shift their perspective and connect to their “noble purpose.” Noble purpose is a popular topic of late. What is it about our current business model that evokes it?

Prasad: When a person or company has a business model that emphasizes noble purpose, then its decisions, actions and communication become much easier to make and are more transparent.

While vision and strategy often play an important part in our current business model, purpose and noble purpose are rarely part of the business model or even mental model.

Monster: Does our world of social media and agile business make wise leadership inherently difficult to practice? Or are advanced technologies and speed of business not to blame?

Prasad: In fact, our modern world of immediate communications and competitive business makes wise leadership essential and very critical.

For example, I was working with a very senior executive who had the habit of immediately responding to people using her Blackberry in a very authentic way. She would say things that she would later regret.

Asking her to reflect before writing such notes and sending them immediately did not work. She then agreed to implement a habit to ‘store and forward’ her emails for 4 hours for one week to see how many messages she would rewrite.

She found that about 30% of her emails needed editing and rewriting; thus she became more open to dialing down her speed of communication and increasing the quality of communication.

Wise leadership allows the leader to be effective, authentic and at the same time appropriate – is that not what we want to do more of?

Monster: Can you share some examples of real-life leaders who exemplify wise leadership, and how they evolved those skills?

Prasad: Ratan Tata of the Tata Group comes to my mind right away; also Alan Mulally, Indra Nooyi, Steve Jobs and Sam Palmisano also are people who practice wise leadership more often than not.

l learned that they all have courage to experiment and fail along with the resilience to learn from leadership failures and make changes. They also have an ability to reflect and be introspective to keep their egos in check.

They used data, intuition and emotion to make decisions; if those decisions did not work out, they had a clear noble purpose to make intelligent and flexible decisions regarding what to hold on to and what to let go of (what we refer to in the book as flexible fortitude).

Finally, they realized time and again that enlightened self-interest is the best way for them to succeed – that is success that allows others to succeed with them.

Monster: The book talks about two styles of smart leaders – functional smart and business smart — and their strengths and limitations. Wise leaders discern the type of “smart” that’s appropriate for a given situation. Can you explain?

Prasad: Functional smart leaders are great in their domain of expertise and wonderful in going deep and focusing on execution. However, they are more cautious about taking risks and less emotionally-engaged with what they do. So they have to dial up their engagement, risk taking and actions to be wise leaders.

On the other hand, smart leaders are aggressive, intense and focused on their pursuit of goals. When they are operating at ‘100% capacity,’ they often have to dial down their approach so as to not scare others on the team.

Wise leaders have to discern whether they need to dial up or dial down their approach, based on the context, and then choose appropriate actions and communication. In other words, wise leaders are more self aware and mindful in taking actions to get things done.

Monster: In the book you point out that a wise leader also pays attention to intangibles such as “shared values, ethics and the greater good.” Do wise leaders need to care deeply about solving the world’s most difficult problems?

Prasad: Wise leaders realize that we live in complex world with huge diversity, interdependence and ambiguity. Shared values, ethical leadership and a focus on the greater good help them to align people to get the job done.

It is not always necessary that they care deeply about solving difficult problems, but when they are interested in doing something about the paradoxes and dilemmas that the world faces, they get more support from others.

For example, VR Ferose of SAP has an autistic child. Being a good parent and passionately caring about autism, Ferose has been working on understanding and appreciating people who have autism. Because of his enlightened self interest, SAP is getting all kinds of press and media coverage and increasing its brand value significantly.

So, start with something bigger than what is in it for you. Start expanding that circle of interest to envelope more and more noble issues and difficult problems in the world to help your circle of influence grow as well.

Monster: You list six traits that define wise leadership. If these six capabilities were adopted by today’s leaders, how different would our world be? What would realistically change?

Prasad: Some of the difficult dilemmas and paradoxes that we face would become more manageable if leaders were to adopt these six capabilities.

For example, if Congress and the President used them, we might be able to realistically make progress on issues such as tax reform, immigration reform, a balanced budget, etc.

Ultimately, wise leadership is not about philosophy – it is about pragmatism and an ability to operate with enlightened self interest, noble purpose and discernment.

Author Bios:
Prasad Kaipa
, PhD, is a Silicon Valley-based CEO advisor and coach. He was the founding executive director of the Centre for Leadership, Innovation, and Change at the Indian School of Business and a Richardson Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership between 2010 and 2011.

Navi Radjou is a Silicon Valley–based strategy consultant, a World Economic Forum faculty member, and a Fellow at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. He is also the coauthor of acclaimed Jugaad Innovation (Jossey-Bass, 2012).

Read more: Six Traits that Define Wise Leadership