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Wisdom, Discernment, Integrity and Decisions

Posted Mar 10 2009 3:15pm

How often do you hear the terms wisdom, discernment, and integrity used during the business day?

What are organizations looking for when hiring, promoting, and thinking about future decision-makers?

We hear words like intelligent, problem-solver, action-oriented, results-driven, and good decision-making ability.

Star But what good are any of those if they aren't carried out with wisdom, discernment, and integrity? It's possible to be action-oriented and still take a lot of wrong actions.

Does intelligence guarantee sound leadership?  History reveals that many leaders with intelligence that was clearly "above average" have oppressed their people, ruined their economies and committed genocide.

What Are We Dealing With Here?

First, some slightly paraphrased definitions from Merriam-Webster Online.

Wisdom: ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : (insight) c : good sense : (judgment).

Discernment: the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent; the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.

Integrity: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : (incorruptibility); the quality or state of being complete or undivided : (completeness).

Why Do They Make a Difference?

Let's start with integrity. It's probably the easiest to deal with and something that we do talk about on the job, at least when it is violated.

Integrity makes a difference because it's an outward indication of our internal character. If we say we have a set of "corporate" values and then live by them--even if it means sacrificing extra revenue--then we are known as having integrity. When we live up to our word, we have integrity. Most of all, integrity is what allows a person or a company to be trusted.

When you posses s wisdom, you are able to make judgments that go beneath the surface issue or decision being presented. My observation and experience show that those possessing wisdom have actually learned from their previous experiences and mistakes; have confronted their own part in them; and now are able to see more clearly what is happening within other people and other situations. Maturity--not age alone--is necessary for wisdom.

Discernment is probably the least-used word in business. It implies a well-honed wisdom that allows one to accurately "read between the lines" when dealing with people and situations and see what is true. You and I know lots of people who say "I know how to 'read' people. However, I don't really know lots of people who discern the truth very well at all.

What Happens in The Absence of Those Three ?

When we hire and promote based upon education, experience, and behavioral traits, we're still working on the surface. To get "keepers" we need to dig one level deeper.

At a business luncheon meeting a few years ago our well-educated, high-level executive speaker spent his entire block of time talking about his accomplishments, what he was going to achieve in the coming year, and the plan to get there. When he asked for questions, the guy next to me said something gutsy. He paraphrased William James:

"I'm sorry. Who you are spoke so loudly that I wasn't able to hear what you had to say."

My neighbor had discerned the self-centered character of the presenter. The speaker had not discerned the values, maturity and character of his audience. As a result, his accomplishments couldn't overcome the low regard in which his peers began to hold him as a result of his bravado. It was a defining moment that impacted his career mobility.

When we're hiring, promoting, and making leadership decisions of any kind, wouldn't it be worthwhile to accurately discern who we're getting?

It will ultimately determine what we get.

There's a lot of blind faith attached to the perceived attribute of "intelligece."  Have a look at Jim Stroup's piece on Blind Faith at Managing Leadership.   Another take from an HR perspective is Sharlyn Lauby'sTruth and Transparency.

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