Wisdom is the last of the eight character traits of Lead by Greatness. These eight traits emerged in my research for the book as common to many of the world's greatest leaders (especially in business). I use the term wisdom in this context, in a rather specific way. By wisdom I mean the innate knowledge with which each of us is born that includes all the understanding we need to fulfill the purpose for which we were created. This is the wisdom a child uses to learn and create language. It is the sum total of universal knowledge that Kabbala suggests even a fetus possesses but then forgets moments before its birth. The rest of that child's life he or she rediscovers truths they already know. They explore, adventure, and learn, and as they do so they re-ignite their innate wisdom and bring it back to the forefront of their consciousness. This is why some newly learned truths resonate deeply within us, because intuitively we already knew them to be true. It is our innate wisdom that helps us, even as very young children, to discern between that which is genuine and that which is false.
This leads us to another one of the eight character traits of Lead by Greatness: mastery. Mastery, among other things, is the ability to access those reservoirs of wisdom that are already within us particularly at times we have to make hard decisions. Individuals who have mastered themselves make decisions using their internal wisdom as their authority and refer to external data only as as check points. Our true authority is within us, it is divine.
External data becomes especially important when we have to persuade others. As effective as inner wisdom is when we make decisions that affect our own lives and work, it is not a useful tool with which to convince others. When it comes to convincing others that our choice is right we need data to support our inner wisdom. Imagine a CFO justifying his investment decisions to shareholders purely on the basis of "my inner wisdom thought this was a good investment." Might not fly! So when our decisions affect others, particularly others who have authority over us, we tend to default to empirical data and often ignore our inner wisdom altogether. Sometimes we completely fail to hear the warning signs from our inner wisdom that the choice we are about to make might not be the best one even though data seems to support it. These are the times we later hear ourselves saying, "I knew at the time I shouldn't have done that despite what everyone was telling me." So, if we knew at the time it was the wrong decision, why did we go with it? The reason is that we tend to default to data as our authority for decision-making because we can always cover our backs with the data if the decision goes bad. Following data is safe, even if it is wrong. Our own insecurities and fears sometimes cause us to do what's safe even when we know it is not the best thing to do in those circumstances.
As safe as data-driven decisions are, they entail a different risk. When business leaders make decisions that are only data-driven they start to lose their competitive edge. Everyone, including our competitors, has access to the same data we do so that decisions based on that data become generic and we lose our differentiation. Data-driven decisions that exclude a dimension of inner wisdom, dilute the authenticity of our choices and compromise the integrity of our leadership.