AUTHOR: JOHN F. KELLY
Wisdom in business, what is it? Can a business even have Wisdom? Surely Wisdom comes from the people within the business? Why does the title of this piece have a question mark? Why am I asking so many questions?
Let me say that this article is what I might call an “I don’t know article,” in that I don’t have all the answers to even the questions I’m posing. However, I have noticed things in the organisations and corporations I have been involved with, either directly through my coaching and facilitator work, or indirectly through observations and study. These point to something at work within some businesses, which seems intangible within the business culture, and yet produces tangible results and performance.1
Most businesses are used to measuring successful performance by hard metrics, mainly financial, such as Sales Volume and Revenue, Margin, Profit, Return on Investment, Shareholder Return or Value and so on. The inputs to achieve these outputs are often measured too, such as the successful application of agreed processes (management and manufacturing), measurement of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), skills and capabilities of employees and even the intellectual horsepower of employees.
In recent decades, driven by the work of Daniel Goleman and others, focus on the intellectual or intelligence capacity (or Quotient, (IQ)) of employees has been added to by the focus on Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) of employees, as another key aspect critical for high performance within companies. I would like to propose a third area that I believe has the greatest potential for positive impact on business performance, the area that I’m calling “Wisdom Capacity” or even “Wisdom Quotient” (WQ) to use the same naming system as IQ and EQ.
How can I explain in words, something that I believe is as intangible as Wisdom Quotient? The dictionary definition is of limited use, defining the noun Wisdom as “The quality of being wise.” Or, “The body of knowledge and experience that develops within a specified society (or organisation), or “The fact of being, based on sensible or wise thinking.” While the last definition comes closer by including “Wisdom as a fact of being,” none of these adequately describe the Wisdom in Business that I’m pointing to here. What I’m talking about is the Wisdom that, among other things:
- Provides a solution out of the blue to a seemingly insurmountable problem.
- Reveals a new way of looking at a situation that shifts us to a completely new paradigm.
- Facilitates the creation of a product or service that satisfies consumer demand that previously hadn’t been identified.
- Creates a mind set shift in opposing parties that seemed impossible to achieve.
- Allows you to do or say the right thing at just the right time to shift business logjams.
- Builds a hospital in 2 weeks, has a sports shirt manufacturer making hospital gowns and a plastic food packaging company making protective visors for NHS staff.
Where does this wisdom come from and is it only available to those with experience as in the “10,000 hours theory” from people such as Malcolm Gladwell? My experience is that this Wisdom is available to all employees, regardless of age, experience, job role, IQ or even EQ. My experience is also that this Wisdom is rarely accessed or evidenced by the vast majority of company employees, despite being available to all. Furthermore, my experience also points to a repeating pattern of conditions, behaviour, environment and culture within individuals, teams and organisations that makes accessing this Wisdom more likely.
Conditions present in “Wisdom Organisations.”
Three main factors appear to be present in Wisdom Organisations.
- Key people are Purpose focused not Ego focused and have a positive relationship with and understanding of the real nature of Thought.
- Time is set aside for quality thinking, as well as time set aside for doing.
- Leaders manifest a way of being that holds people accountable and themselves responsible, without looking to blame others.
For the individual:
Owning their own purpose within the organisation, having quality time to think and being able to hold a place of unconditional positive regard or being non-judgemental with peers and colleagues.
Identification with achieving their purpose, and not with their position or the results, marks these individuals as beyond the ‘normal’ business achiever.
Colin Powell is often quoted as saying that
“It’s amazing what can be achieved when you don’t care who gets the credit.”
I would also add that it is amazing what problems can be solved, when we don’t expend our energy on looking for others to blame.
For the team:
No successful organisation is just a collection of successful individuals; it must also have a successful team ethos where the sum is greater than just the addition of parts. For Wisdom organisations, their successful teams also have a ‘way of being,’ that allows for all voices to be heard and listened to in a manner that encourages creativity, spontaneity, even foolishness, so that new thought is flowing all the time and allowing Wisdom to have its place in idea generation, problem solving and solution generation.
The purpose focused, ego-less, blameless ways of working of the team facilitate an outcome that is beyond the reach of the individuals working apart and that could only be generated by the team working together in this fashion. What can we do together that we can’t do apart?
For the organisation:
Just as with the movement from individuals into teams, so the movement from teams into the ‘team of teams’ that makes up the organisation, the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. For the organisation to develop a Wisdom ‘Way of Being’, it is not necessary for every individual within the organisation to have a high Wisdom Quotient. It is necessary that a sufficient number are key players, within the teams that constitute the organisation, in order that the teams behave in the ways outlined earlier. When this happens the culture of the organisation becomes such that well-being is enhanced, employees feel engaged, the drive to deliver on the collective purpose is powerful and performance significantly improves.
In Summary, businesses can develop Wisdom. It requires a sufficient number of key individuals to work with a way of being that can be described as mindful, as having a quality relationship with their thinking and a way of unconditional positive regard with their colleagues. A way of being that is apathetic to ego success, focused on delivering on an agreed common purpose and free to the promptings of the intuitive mind, as well as the rational brain.
1. For examples of such organisations check out these books.
- Invisible Power; Ken Manning, Robin Charbit, Sandra Knott (2015); Insight Principles, Inc and
- The Soul of a Leader, Margaret Benefiel, Crossroads Publishing (2008)
2. For ideas on creating a thinking environment in work please read “Time to Think” or “More Time to Think” by Nancy Kline, Cassell Illustrated, Octopus Publishing(1999)
About The Author : John F. Kelly
I am a Transformative Executive, Leadership and Life Coach in Northern Ireland, committed to transforming individuals and organisations. Empowering individuals and helping people and businesses fulfil their potential has always been a key part of my leadership approach.
With more than 30 years experience as a business coach and strategist, trainer and developer of sales professionals at all levels, operating at director and senior manager level, my clients have included some of the world’s leading FMCG companies, local SME’s, 3rd sector organisations and a range of professional business services organisations.
I’m a specialist in the food & drink and retail industry with proven growth record in developing individuals and companies.
I’m available for non-executive roles in ambitious organisations.
Based in Ireland, I offer transformative life, executive and team coaching and training programmes in person, or phone and online.