Introduction Leadership & Wisdom

Introduction Leadership & Wisdom

This article introduces wisdom as an essential ingredient of advanced leadership. It is a stepping stone to our Program for Inspirational Leadership and Wisdom. What is wisdom, why is it important and how to spot wiser leadership behavior?

What is wisdom?

This question is as ancient as mankind itself. Any culture in every corner of our planet searched for answers to this basic question and came up with its own answers. That’s why we need to narrow this question down and focus on our main topic of advanced leadership.

To keep my answers as brief and clear as possible I will leave out the details. They will be covered in our program. Besides, what counts is its usefulness for your leadership practice, not the next lengthy academic treatise clouding our mind.

Nevertheless, my answers are based on a broad range of sources, including scientific researches, international literature and my own professional and personal experience of the past 50 years. For more details, see the notes and bibliography in our program’s textbooks.

So, what is leadership wisdom?

Basically, wisdom is an innate human quality and all human beings have this quality at their disposal whether they make use of it or not. This quality can be developed just as any other human quality. It has nothing to do with gender, age, intelligence, education, culture or ethnicity. We all can grow wiser every day.

Leadership wisdom is a well-developed quality expressed as a deep appreciation of the value of wisdom and the expertise to apply it to a day-to-day leadership practice.

To this end, two types of wisdom can be observed: practical and inner wisdom. The first one is wisdom from the outside in as we gain insights and (self-)knowledge from our life experiences. It is more or less a traditional perspective on this concept.

The second one is wisdom from the inside out as we all have our source of inner wisdom deep within us. We can communicate with it intuitively. It inspires us by deep-level insights suddenly popping up in our mind, such as aha-moments, or uplifting feelings infusing our heart.

To communicate with this inner source, we have to differentiate between three aspects: wisdom as content, such as holy texts or proverbs, wisdom as a skill, notably to apply wise content into our practice, and wisdom as a mindset.

All three parts are important and they complement each other. But wisdom as a mindset, notably an open and reflective mindset, is the one we need to communicate with our inner source. In our program we’ll explain how to do this.

Why is wisdom important for leaders?

It is a well-known fact that we cannot solve the complicated global problems we face today with the same mindset as the one that created them in the first place.1

Senior and executive leaders may have great power but what is lacking is a balance between this power and wisdom.

Power without wisdom is a curse, power with wisdom is a blessing for all people involved. That’s why the answer to the question why wisdom is important for leaders is, ‘to take better quality decisions in complicated and fast changing situations’.

Power without wisdom is a curse, power with wisdom is a blessing for all involved

Be aware that I do not mean to say that leaders have no wisdom at all. Of course they do. But given the decisions they have to make in increasingly complicated and fast changing situations, globally, more wisdom is needed than ever.

Unfortunately, as we all know, a serious power-wisdom unbalance has led to catastrophic results, including warfare, environmental damage and social deprivation. In fact, there has been a persistent unbalance in the past millennia, globally. This wisdom deficit needs to be repaired. It is time to change.

How to spot wiser leadership behavior?

What are the elements of wisdom to be observed in wiser leadership behavior? Selection, development and promotion of leaders would greatly benefit from more awareness of these elements.

Following the two types of wisdom mentioned before, a number of elements can be discerned. Let’s look at four of them.

Practical wisdom: reflection and meaning.

Wiser leaders will show an ability to self-reflect, learn and grow. The age-old adage ‘Know Thyself’ is still true today. But there is a catch. To know who we are at the deeper levels of our being will require different reflection techniques. They need to be mastered first.

Wiser leaders will also actively support more meaning at work. They will co-create with their stakeholders better labor conditions, higher quality products and services, fair trade contracts and envionmentally friendly logistics, to name a few examples.

Stakeholders are not only employees, clients and investors but also (global) suppliers, contractors and local communities. In relation to leadership, I prefer to talk about stakeholders and not followers to indicate a more interactive relationship.2

Inner wisdom: compassion and truth.

Compassion is a hallmark of inner wisdom. True wisdom originates in our heart and unlike erudition and learnedness, compassion adds a strong desire to be of service to others and to alleviate suffering in any way possible.

It may show up in advanced leadership behavior in many ways, for instance to pay local suppliers a fair price for their products and services or to respect the basic human rights of citizens of local communities anywhere on this planet. Disdain for these rights is an indication of a serious lack of wisdom.

Truth is also a core element of inner wisdom. It is about this inner urge to search for what is real and valuable in life and to express the truth in all communications and relationships.

This search for truth does not mean we will never make errors of judgment and other mistakes anymore, because we will. But it will reveal our true identity and our true priorities in life. It will reflect a an ethical, transparent and accountable leadership behavior.


There is much work to be done to repair the global power-wisdom deficit. But senior and executive leaders can contribute by sharing their wisdom and by developing more practical and inner wisdom. Our program is no more than a modest contribution to help leaders rebalance and grow into wiser leaders.

1 To quote Albert Einstein. Retrieved from: albert_einstein_121993
2 In our program the term stakeholders is used in a neutral sense. It has nothing to do with the way other institutions use this term, such as ‘stakeholder capitalism’.

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Author: Daniel Le Gras
Date: January 2023
Picture: ArtTower / Pixabay

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Please, cite this article as: Le Gras, D. (2023). Introduction Leadership & Wisdom. Institute for Governance & Leadership, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.