Six Traits that Define Wise Leadership

By: Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou, authors of From Smart to Wise: Acting And Leading with Vision (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Smartness is like a wild horse — riding it can be exhilarating for a while until one is thrown from it. To tame and harness smartness for the long run, we need wisdom — the stuff that gives us ethical clarity and a sense of purpose.

Below are six capabilities that smart 21st-century business leaders can use to cultivate wise leadership.

Smart leaders generally fall into two broad categories: functional smart and business smart.

1. Perspective
Functional smart leaders…
typically focus on what can be done in the short term and tend to shy away from ideas that don’t reinforce their own perspective.

Business smart leaders…typically have a long-term vision and can get others to line up behind that vision. They spot opportunities and act quickly on them, sometimes ignoring critical input.

Wise leaders…pay attention to patterns that connect and ideas that expand their worldview. They focus on bringing out the best in others and finding a noble purpose that can be shared with their followers.

2. Action Orientation
Functional smart leaders…
are more focused on doing things “the right way” than on doing “what is right.” They don’t adapt easily to changing circumstances.

Business smart leaders…tend to act impulsively and make emotional decisions but do not always communicate their course corrections or reasoning to others.

Wise leaders…are neither excessively cautious nor risky. They use their noble purpose as a touchstone to assess which risks are worth taking, and they act appropriately without losing their authenticity.

3. Role Clarity
Functional smart leaders…
focus on the “what” and “how” of their role rather than the “why.” They also tend to stick to the same role because it’s in their comfort zone.

Business smart leaders…often let their ego and pride get attached to their role and the perks that come with it. This can get them into trouble when they feel the end justifies the means.

Wise leaders…have no role confusion between what needs to get done and who is best at carrying out that role. They act as trustees or servant leaders in whatever roles they accept — and don’t mind allowing others to lead.

4. Decision Logic
Functional smart leaders…excel at low-risk decisions that can be executed in a predictable manner. They struggle with decisions that affect the long term or the need to integrate other perspectives.

Business smart leaders…favor decisions that carry high risk and high reward. They are prone to making quick decisions without always consulting others.

Wise leaders…tend to make intuitive decisions using both discernment and discrimination. They make decisions that take into account the larger context, personal values, and ethics.

5. Flexible Fortitude
Functional smart leaders…
are methodical in their work and operate strictly within those limits. They will defend their decision at any cost, and it’s difficult for them to change directions.

Business smart leaders…also demonstrate persistence, but can too easily give up if there’s a better opportunity. They bounce back from setbacks, but don’t always learn from their mistakes.

Wise leaders…stick to decisions when aligned with their noble purpose, are good at enlisting support, and revise decisions when the context shifts. They draw on collective willpower for transformational change.

6. Drivers of Motivation
Functional smart leaders…are motivated by operational excellence and high-quality execution. They place taking care of their families and financial security over fame or financial gains.

Business smart leaders…are driven by the strong desire to achieve fame and success in life. Adventurous by nature, they eschew routine projects and seek challenging initiatives instead.

Wise leaders…are driven to serve others. Intrinsically motivated, they can exercise great self-discipline in staying with an issue and resolving it without the need for external reward or recognition.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom by Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou Copyright © 2013. 

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: Effective Leadership Redefined: From Smart to Wise