Working Wisely

by Monica on March 23, 2010

When I speak about wisdom in the framework of Aspirations Theory, I often ask the audience to name one person they know who is wise. I am always touched by their answers as they mention a grandparent, an older family member, a parent, a friend, or even their children as one of the wisest they know. It is only rarely that a mentor is mentioned, even less so, a colleague. Do wise people not go to work? Is the context of corporate culture not conducive to wisdom? Don’t get me wrong, the stories of the wise include their work, as much as they include their relationships, their way of living in a manner that brings out the best in them and others. But the way others know these people is usually not by being in the trenches with them, by doing good work together, by following their cause or working on a project. It is usually in the personal arena that they notice wise ways. As my passion lies in how people value and enjoy their life’s work, this got me thinking.

Are there better ways of working wisely?

Ways in which it shows. Ways in which it counts. Ways in which it makes a difference. After all, the wisdom people bring up in these conversations is everyday wisdom. The kind that a grandmother might exhibit when dispensing good advice. The kind that a friend shows when being calm in the face of disaster. The kind that children show when they go beyond the shortcomings of their parents. The kind of wise, wise way in which people make a sustainable and desirable life for themselves and the people around them.

These three things come up time and time again in different forms. Can we still find them in our workplace?

Wise people do not know everything and they know it! I believe part of the difficulty in finding people who work wisely is the widespread arrogance that is a part of being “on top” in organizations today. The silly situation that is casting yourself as a “know it all”.   Rather than take that position, wise people use what they do know in productive, healthy ways that improve upon what is. Allowing for mistakes and learning, asking for help and a being willing to admit you don’t know something are all a part of what the wise ones do. They do not shy away from decisions and difficult choices yet they do so while maintaining a healthy dose of self-assessment and openness to the ideas of others.

Wise people know the questions. They thrive on them. They seek new questions. They ask and listen. They refine the art of asking and bring out the best in others. Wise people make a stand often and will tell you what they believe unabashedly. Still, even more than being right, they enjoy being the one to ask the great question. They have a treasure chest full of them and they do ask the most compelling, thought-provoking things of everyone, including themselves.

Wise people take things with a grain of salt. Seeing the big picture, they do not fret about the little things. They easily put difficulties into perspective. Though they are interested in life and in the consequences each decision might bring about, they think wider than in the context of immediacy. So much of what goes on in the workplace seems so life-or-death! Most usually it isn’t. A wise person will have the ability to laugh it off. To stay calm and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So tell me, Do you work with a wise person? As you wise at work?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Ravi Tangri March 23, 2010 at 4:17 am

You are so aligned with my thinking, Monica, and the work of the Art of Hosting community. Things are far too complex for any one person to have ‘the solution’. The leaders today have to admit that they have only one piece of the puzzle. Their job is crafting the powerful (or we sometimes call them ‘wicked’) questions that engage and invite all the other key players into the real conversations they need to have to co-create the way forward. That’s where our society needs to move as the norm, not the exception.

And, for God’s sake (to your 3rd point), you can’t take yourself – or others – too seriously. :)

I think we have lots to chat about, Monica!

DebExo March 23, 2010 at 4:35 am

Thank you! Your question, “Are there better ways of working wisely” stopped me…and as I reflected on my own work experience, I believe that wisdom at work is rare and often hidden in the trenches where strategy and “the doing” work of an organization meet. Rarely is wisdom one of the competencies/capabilities identified in leadership models. Rarely do organization’s prize the questions, the transparency when one voices when s/he does not know the answer, or the demeanor of quiet confidence and calm. Often when an individual is identified as “wise”, they also are labeled “old”, “a bit slow”, “lack energy” and sometimes “checked out”. Yet we are all attracted to wisdom in our personal lives (and we often seek it out)…you have identified an important gap in our work worlds. Awareness is our first step, and then?????

Susan Mazza March 23, 2010 at 10:47 am

I love reading about your work on Aspirations Theory Monica.

This in particular is a very compelling question to me:

“Is the context of corporate culture not conducive to wisdom?”

The 3 things you point to are a great distillation of what wisdom looks like “in action” do seem to be hard to find in the workplace.

Wondering if…

The value on short term results and answers is antithetical to valuing wisdom which by it’s nature has a longer term view as well as a comfort with questions and ambiguity.

One of the perhaps more subtle reasons the word “wise” is not used in a corporate setting could be because wisdom has historically been associated with old age, not a good thing in a corporate context.

…and still thinking…

Monica March 24, 2010 at 8:31 am

Susan…You are speaking exactly about that immediacy I mention. Yes! In fact, short term results are antithetical even to business success! The longer we take to realize this the more painful it will be to companies, individuals and society. Yes, wisdom can only be recognized by observing a person over time and the effect that person has on others. Old age and wisdom? I keep thinking about that, too! But, then again, I have some wise kids at home 😉

Monica March 24, 2010 at 8:36 am

Thanks for your comment here, Ravi! I hear you loud and clear! Yes, LET’S talk soon! :)

Monica March 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

Yes! Awareness is key to living fully…at work too! And as a society we “make things old” quickly by valuing only the shiny, new instead of the true and tried. So everything comes around anyway when “everything old is new again”. If we pause enough to think, we may be able to keep the good work practices in place, regardless of them not being “in fashion”. The gap between what we value as people and what we recognize at work is still too big for my taste! 😉 Thanks for your comment, Deb!

Kendall Thiesen March 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

Monica: Great insights. These are great questions to ask and the three ways you present of bringing wisdom into the workplace are right on. I also agree with Susan that short-term results are at least–on paper–antithetical to the goal. With that said, how much better would we achieve even short term goals if we slowed down a bit more and asked more questions? Took in more information rather than dictating results?

I am not sure I would say we should treat things like a grain of salt (put them on my eggs? :) per se but as you say keeping things in perspective and focusing energies on solutions as we go and structuring our thinking rather than letting the fire drill drive our experience.

Another interesting twist for me in sharing my own brand of wisdom was the artificial boxes we often create between our working self and our “real” self. There is almost a resistance to reveal too much of who you are. I often had people tell me that they were shocked to see how spiritual I was as I had so carefully shielded that side of myself. It was a mistake and now I am doing more than ever to integrate all parts of my life. But it took me stepping out of the boxes by corporations to do that as I do believe that such transparency is not always welcome in the traditional work setting. This needs to change and I think the new breed of social entrepreneurs and innovators that intentionally integrate their passions with their work will be a big step toward that new reality.

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