The road to management wisdom

Research has identified the fundamental qualities required for wise decision making – and how managers can develop them during the course of their daily work.

Business skills make a sound basis for a management career - but what does it take to achieve true wisdom? What qualities do managers need to become wise decision makers? And how can they be developed?

According to Dr Ali Intezari of UQ Business School, an authority on wise leadership, wisdom is more than just the accumulation of knowledge. “It is learning about one’s self and others and increasing the capacity to learn,” he says. “It is not just about learning how to make wise decisions, but doing so through exposure to the real world.”

To understand what makes a wise decision maker, Dr Intezari and his colleague, Associate Professor David Pauleen from Massey University in Auckland, asked dozens of senior managers for their views. They identified three key characteristics.

Firstly, wise leaders take account of different perspectives when making a decision – their own values and views, those of the organisation and the wider community. Therefore they understand the bigger picture.

Secondly, wise leaders have a high level of awareness – of themselves, others and the environment in which they operate. They understand their own abilities, values, strengths and weaknesses and those of others, and are always aware of what is going on around them.

Finally, they also have the ability to integrate logic with non-rational input to inform decision making. Wise managers never ignore logic and are aware they might need it to justify their decisions, but they also understand the power of emotion, intuition and imagination.

“These three qualities are the fundamental skillset for wise decision making,” says Dr Intezari. “They allow wise managers to come up with creative alternatives and new solutions, to respond to circumstances effectively and to make wise decisions. It is possible for managers to develop these skills during the course of their daily life, but it is a case of ‘practice makes perfect’.”

He says managers need to commit to two key practices – praxis and reflexivity. Praxis involves perseverance in practical reasoning, thinking about what is right and proper in a given situation and considering the impact of your actions. It means taking account of all the circumstances and the broadest view of what it is best to do before acting.

Reflexivity is a process of learning and self-development. Unlike reflection, which is about considering events in the past, reflexivity is very much about the present. In its highest form, it requires a moment to moment awareness of one’s own actions, thoughts, feelings and their effect on others. It is being aware of your relationship with others and how you contribute to the business and society at large.

“Using praxis and reflexivity in the course of their work will help managers to develop wisdom and strengthen their decision making,” adds Dr Intezari.

He outlines five key points to help managers find the path to wisdom:

Develop awareness - Successful leaders have a breadth of awareness of themselves, others and events around them, which enables them to make the most of their own strengths and the opportunities that arise.

Reflect on events - Don’t just focus on the big decisions, there are plenty of valuable lessons in everyday life. Reflect also on the views of the community and society. Society’s values and expectations are constantly evolving, as are market needs. Staying in tune with these will help keep your business at the crest of the wave.

Acknowledge what you don’t know - Be aware of any gaps in your knowledge and skills. You can then compensate for these by seeking out others with the right knowledge and experience.

Take account of different views - Bear in mind the different perspectives of all the business stakeholders and the wider community. Prioritise them and articulate the expectations behind them. Incorporate them into your decision making and see how you can improve the decision. Understanding others’ values allows you to decide what your business should value.

Combine logic and emotion - Decisions should be informed and rational, but don’t ignore your emotions. There should be enough room for both. Reflect on your experience, yet listen to your gut-feeling. Logic and emotion may appear to be opposites but they are complementary. Your instincts are rooted in unconscious analysis of your experiences and in your hidden knowledge. Listen to your intuition and back up your feelings with reliable information and analysis.

“The path to management wisdom is open to everyone,” says Dr Intezari, “but like business success itself, it requires perseverance and commitment.”

Last updated:
25 March 2019