Leadership : The Missing Wisdom School of Modern Management

James Traeger works as a training and development consultant and facilitator, as a founder member of Global Resonance Group. For ten years he was also assistant editor of the New Humanity Journal, one of the UK's longest running magazines of politics, philosophy and spirituality.

James is also known for his menswork project, and is the co-developer of an international work-based development programme for men, called Navigator.

Contact James by e-mail, or check out his website


How do people learn what counts in today's organisational world? How do they learn about people, about good practice, about diversity? How do they learn to manage real, thorny problems that emerge between and within teams of fragile, sensitive, emotional, erratic, beautiful humans? On a recent mentoring training programme, a colleague found himself confronted by a group of young managers who exhibited all the signs of learning-about-life anxiety. Their young, brash, MBA-fed, shiny exteriors made all the right noises to add to the cacophony of contemporary organisational politics, but they just didn't want to admit that they had anything to learn about people. 'It was all common sense,' they said, 'Nothing more to it'. Yes, it is common sense. Of course it may also be considered common sense to build a wall between two warring peoples, or to 'inflate' the turnover figures in order to keep the stock price artificially high. It is like working with a group of bright adolescents. Load of facts, figures, good intention and information, little experience, and no wisdom. More to the point, even a fear of wisdom.

Where does the root of this issue lie? How is it that organisations which have great resources, clarity, vision and indeed, in I.Q. terms, a very high calibre of people, lack the one thing that might enable their teams to be better lead? It isn't just emotional intelligence, or E.Q., to quote Daniel Goleman, that is missing; it is also 'W.Q.', the wisdom quotient, the understanding of how to put into practice not just what we know but also what we don't know, and the grace, elegance, patience to wait and see. It isn't really surprising that organisations with heavily over developed 'hurry-up drivers', lack this quality of calm and clear self and other-contemplation. Yet without it, for all the talk of mentoring cultures, coaching styles, joined up thinking and 'boxing clever', our workplaces will fail to be places where individuals can really develop. Without development, there cannot be realisation of potential.

"Fear stifles wisdom." an old friend of mine, sadly departed, used to say.

So what is it that these incipient leaders fear? Perhaps they fear exposure in the blame culture. Perhaps they fear for their jobs, or even, since September 11th 2001, their lives? Perhaps they fear their conscious incompetence. Yet without it, how can they learn? So whose job is it to challenge this? It has to be the job of the highest leadership. They have to model openness to the disclosure of what it is we do not know or understand, not just about practical problems and business processes, but about ourselves, about the mysteries of each other, and perhaps about our uncertainties about where we are headed.

Perhaps this fear of learning the nature of the inner self has at its root the failure of democracy. Perhaps we do not listen enough because in a democratic culture, the opinions of everyone are held to be valid, even if they are not. That is why we have stopped listening to all experts, because we have been let down by one or two.

Another way of looking at it is that for so many eons, the voice of youth has been so steadfastly ignored, that, understandably, now it has expression we can't get it to shut up. Perhaps we just need a better balance between youthful exuberance, drive and zest, and wise counsel, contemplation, deeper self-awareness and silence. There has to be a balance of leadership, of the heart as well as the mind. Such balance requires great wisdom. Without it there will be much said, as usual, but little can be achieved.


Copyright © 2002 - James Traeger

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