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A Word to the Wise

If there were a poll to find the top leadership trait, which one would you select? And how would you decide?

I've been musing over this question for a few days now after reading of the attributes of many of those top banking leaders who ruined some of our most respected financial institutions.

Their traits of greed, arrogance, and miscalculation are unlikely to figure on my top ten list. I think I'd prefer honesty, honour, and courage, which, incidentally, was the favourite of Walt Disney.

But, having given it some thought, I've now picked my personal winner.

It's an attribute that is very much out of fashion at the moment. In fact, trawling through other peope's lists, it rarely figures on them at all.

What is it? It's "wisdom".

Wisdom probably doesn't have a very good press at the moment, associated as it is with experience, maturity, and humility. In other words, it's something that comes with age. Of our world leaders, it's an attribute demonstrated by only a handful, for example the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela; though we have high hopes of Barack Obama making the final nominations.

So what exactly is "wisdom"?

For the answer, I turned to Abraham Maslow, originator of the theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. If you recall this theory, you'll know that Maslow said that we all have two kinds of needs: lower order needs such as survival, security, esteem, and recognition; and higher order needs which he described as "self-actualisation".

What I didn't know was that, when Maslow put together his higher order needs theory back in the mid-20th century, he based it on his studies of people who he believed were self-actualisers, ie people concerned with bringing the best out of themselves and others. What today we would call "leaders".

Maslow found that all the leaders he studied had a number of attributes in common. They were inner-directed people. They were creative. They appreciated the world around them with awe and wonder. Central to their lives was a set of values that Maslow called the B, or Being, values: wholeness, perfection, completion, justice, aliveness, richness, simplicity, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, effortlessness, playfulness, truth, honesty, reality, and self-sufficiency.

Maslow summed up this list in one word: "wisdom".

And what does that mean in practice? What do the wise do that others don't? Well, for that answer, let me quote what Cop Macdonald says about wisdom on his website "wisdompage". Macdonald says that wisdom involves:

* seeing things clearly; seeing things as they are
* acting in prudent and effective ways
* acting with the well-being of the whole in mind
* deeply understanding the human/cosmic situation
* knowing when to act and when not to act
* being able to handle whatever arises with peace of mind and an effective, compassionate, holistic response
* being able to anticipate potential problems and avoid them.

What a pity our banking leaders didn't study Maslow and Cop Macdonald and take a degree in Needs theory rather than dodgy accounting. If they had, and if they had developed the attributes of Maslow's self-actualisers and Macdonald's wise leaders, what a different world we would be in today.