Wisdom and Business? The Thought Exists.
Beginning in 1917, Forbes Magazine
set aside its last page for "Thoughts on the Business of Life". It was
B.C. Forbes' hope that wise words and reflections by sages and thinkers
throughout the centuries would "inspire a philosophic mode of life,
broad sympathies, charity to all."
His vision was one of thoughtful reflection, a wide range of understanding, and reaching out to others.
Today it's common to see posters, desk ornaments, appointment books,
and presentation slides showing inspirational, wise, and motivational
maxims. At some level--as business people--we acknowledge the
importance of wisdom. We have to wonder, then, what is happening in
daily practice when we see the onslaught of blog posts, newspaper
articles, and scandals that reflect frustration with a lack of
managerial wisdom, personal integrity, and basic kindness toward others.
What is happening that causes managers, employees, and organizations
who acknowledge the importance of wisdom and integrity to then struggle
in their ability to live that way?
First: It's Personal Before It's Organizational.
Organizations are collections of individuals. The only place an
organization exists as an entity is on its papers of incorporation and
stock certificate. Past that, the organization is a community of
people. Each person brings values, aspirations, talent, and one's
overall "self" to the business. As a result, if you want an
organization of wise people that act with integrity, the individuals within have to possess those attributes. In the words of B.C. Forbes, they would possess a "philosophic mode of life."
In practical terms, that means that they see themselves as learners
and an incomplete work. Companies would be wise to invest extra time
and energy in validating whether a new hire or candidate for promotion
has a passion for personal growth--not just a passion for learning.
Personal growth implies depth, not just breadth. If I were to complete
3 different doctoral programs but gain no deeper understanding of
myself in relation to those around me, what have I gained that will
improve the nature of my organization and my life?
And Yes, It Is About You
Before embarking on a hiring campaign, expanding your leadership
skills, or seeking a promotion, understand that the integrity of that
process begins with your own integrity. The extent to which you are clear about what is honestly important to you; what is honestly important to your business; and what you can honestly present or offer to another will influence your success.
In addition to the common definition "honesty and incorruptibility," integrity is the "quality or state of being complete or undivided."
Here's what that means in real terms. It means that unless you are
undivided about who you are--and who you are not--you lack integrity.
The building in which you work has a certificate of occupancy that was
only granted after it was tested for structural integrity.
If you were tested right now on how clear and undivided you are about who you are, would you get a certificate of occupancy?
Here's what I really hope will be a useful tip if you want to be a person of integrity:
I struggled for a long time in getting focused--getting
honest--about what I wanted for the future scope of my practice. Every
time I tried to define it I thought of all of the consulting, coaching, and speaking projects and engagements I had done over the years. I thought of all
the things I hoped to do and wanted to be. It led to nothing but long
lists and wasted energy. One morning I awoke fresh and this question
came to mind:
1. "What are all of the things you are not?"
2. "What are all of the things you do not want to be?"
3. "Are you telling yourself the truth?"
It catapulted the process into the ozone. Try it. It is easy to list
all of the things you don't want to become. It is an exercise in
honesty to list all of the things that you are not. And, quite frankly,
you'll know right away whether you are lying to yourself or not. And if
you think you can't see something accurately, ask a friend, colleague,
We are used to equating additive processes with success. But that only creates more "stuff." Getting rid of what you don't want is like cleaning your storage room. After tossing out what is obviously junk, you can clearly and more accurately see what is left and what you value enough to keep.
(Try it. Really. And let me know via email or a comment how it goes).
So, for organizational wisdom: start with personal integrity
and clarity. If we don't know who we are, we can't see clearly who
others are. Our discernment is distorted. The images that we see are
being reflected from an internal mirror that is made of frosted glass.
Only a clear, smooth coating will do.
Note: If you truly have been honest with yourself--then take a job
that you know is not a fit, but you must earn some money --understand
what you have done. Should your colleagues or boss behave in ways that
are inconsistent with your defined values, it is not their problem. You
have made a short-term decision to violate your integrity. This will
probably present a terrific opportunity to gain wisdom, should you
And Next, It's Organizational
I'm sure many of us have been involved in vision, mission, values
activities at work. But that phenomenon seems to have lost steam. What
was an attempt to get organizations to "dig deep" in determining what
they were really about has morphed into wall plaques, sound bites, and
the headings of annual reports. What was designed to offer
purpose-driven and moral guidance has, for many, become another
exercise-du-jour. (There are also many companies such as Johnson &
Johnson and Minerals Technologies who work at living out their guiding
principles. I have consulted often with both and have been impressed by their consistency).
What is the answer, then?
If companies and countries want to hire, elect, and retain the best, they need to
re-visit their values and "who we are" in deeply clear and meaningful
ways. There is no way to discern "best fit" without understanding "who
we are" and "what we hold dear." To send an HR person or manager into
the "talent wars" without those is akin to sending them into battle
unarmed. They may come back with a warm body, but it will be a prisoner
and not a contributor.
Wisdom, Discernment, Integrity, and Speed
Every major religion has a principle that addresses the relationship
between stillness, sound decisions, and wisdom. I'm not naive to the
inner workings of profit-making organizations. Heck. I am a profit making organization (regardless of what my accountant says).
If you and your organization truly want to do the wise thing,
genuinely want to discern what is true and what is not, and create
organizational integrity (both honesty and structure); then allow the time
needed to do so. Clarity doesn't exist in the midst of a blur. Wisdom
isn't acquired from reading quotations; it is acquired as a result of
taking time to be quotable yourself. And personal wholeness and
structural soundness aren't built on rapidly shifting values and
Become the wise, discerning, person of integrity that you want your organization to be.
Someone has to go first. Someone who values the wisdom of that decision. Why not you?
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