Leadership on Point

What Happened to Wisdom?

October 12, 2011 Richard Levin

We need leadership; leaders who lead; government; Occupy Wall Street; Obama; Democrat; Republican

Before the last Presidential election, Barrie Greiff and I wrote a Boston Business Journal column about the disappointing lack of wisdom displayed by the candidates for President.  Sadly, not much has changed on the political landscape, and the situation may be trending toward a disturbing disconnect between wisdom and leadership.

Wise leadership is dependent on the vision of a transformative leader.  We don’t have transformative leaders in Washington, in part because they are busier knocking each other down than explaining to us what they stand for and what they would do differently.

A wise leader would rise above the nonsense, would not look for someone to blame, would accept responsibility, and would put the nation ahead of his or her own ambitions.  But the reality is, that’s unlikely to happen simply because the nature of politics is ambition.  For transformation to happen, Congress, the President, and the Presidential candidates have to stop blaming each other and have to step up to the table with vision, answers, and leadership.  If they feel the President is not leading, stop criticizing him and start leading.

Wisdom is not what a candidate has to do to get elected; wisdom is the ability to lead when times get tough. And times are tough. Yet wisdom doesn’t reside with leaders alone.  Leaders aren’t leaders if there’s no one to lead.  So we followers play a significant role in the equation of wise leadership. The wisdom of voters is as important as the wisdom of leaders. And there certainly is something about the wisdom of crowds, as evidenced by Occupy Wall Street.

The Presidential candidates are completely dependent upon voters’ wisdom to choose the best leader.  “Constituents” – a better word than “followers” when we are discussing Presidents – know that wisdom, simply stated, is good sense.  It is the experience to make sensible decisions and good judgments, the ability to understand and learn from the past.  It is perspective over time.

Wise leadership is the keen understanding and good judgment that comes from insight, self-awareness, personal values, and cultural broad-mindedness. It is the ability to listen to other voices that may not always support your own.

There are five factors that lead to wise leadership in challenging times:

  1. Shared Purpose. A common purpose that inspires everyone to work toward a common goal.
  2. Trust. Asking constituents to take risks, to be entrepreneurial, and accept the unknown requires exceptional trust. For constituents to trust their leaders, their leaders must walk the talk.
  3. Messaging. Tell and sell the story.  Constituents need a good story to rally around, a hill to be climbed, a battle to be fought. Our political leadership has not demonstrated enough wisdom in crafting, telling, and rallying people around a compelling story.  It is astounding, for example, that the President is not asking for more TV time to tell his story.  The strategy has to be to communicate and over-communicate — to rally the people around a compelling story and vision.
  4. Creativity. Unleash the intellectual capacity of the constituents. Engage everyone in solving the problem, not just whining about the problem and assigning blame, but getting everyone involved. Unleash the creative spirit of the American people.  Seed and encourage bold solutions.  Get people energized through their creative thinking. Create a safe environment for people to experiment, take risks and fulfill their creative potential. The secret is to discover what people do well and ask them to do more of it.
  5. Integrity. The wise leader is a person of authenticity, honesty and integrity. He or she stands for something, not against something else. Wise, ethical leaders attract, inspire, and retain loyal followers.

Share this message with our leaders and with your fellow travelers who are seeking wisdom.  There is no substitute for wise leadership.


Written by Dr. Richard Levin, President of Richard Levin & Associates. He can be reached at rlevin@richardlevinassociates.com.