In Search of Leadership Wisdom: 5 Traps

When Socrates declared at his trial “that I do not think that I know what I do not know,” he set the stage for defining true wisdom in humans: recognizing the limits of one’s own knowledge. How many leaders in business demonstrate that?

I’m currently reading an interesting book full of good stories about this interesting virtue, Wisdom by Stephen S. Hall.

When you think about wisdom, it’s perhaps odd that it’s so difficult to define and deconstruct given that it’s so essential to good leadership. Wisdom combines intelligence with emotional and practical savvy. You can’t really be wise without thinking about ethics and consequences to individuals, groups and environments.

One of the hallmarks of wise leaders, in my opinion, is that they are able to exercise good judgment in the face of imperfect knowledge. Good leaders do the right thing as much as possible for the common good. Of course, this isn’t without it’s dilemmas since one often has to make choices that involve the wrong things for some people some of the time.

In an article about executive wisdom (2005), Robert J. Sternberg stated this:

“… effective leadership is in large part, a function of creativity in generating ideas, analytical intelligence in evaluating the quality of these ideas, practical intelligence in implementing the ideas, and convincing others to value and follow the ideas, and wisdom to ensure that the decisions and their implementation are for the common good of all stakeholders.” (2005)

Sternberg goes as far as to suggest that intelligent, well-educated people are particularly susceptible to five fallacies that inhibit wise choices and actions.  You can read more about these fallacies in Sternberg’s entertaining book Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid (2003), but I will summarize them here:

  1. The unrealistic-optimism fallacy: believing only good things will result from one’s ideas and actions.
  2. The egocentrism fallacy: believing that one’s opinions are the only ones that matter.
  3. The omniscience fallacy: believing one can do what one wants.
  4. The omnipotence fallacy: believing one can do what one wants.
  5. The invulnerability fallacy: believing one can get away with anything.

What do you think about these traps? Do they remind you of any leaders you’ve worked with?

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