When I was younger I always looked up to my elders for wisdom and advice. A life of experiences makes people wiser is what I thought. I wasn’t wrong, but as I age, I find that there is a specific type of experience and knowledge that is most associated with being wise. My epiphany is that being wise is directly correlated with being self-aware. The more we learn about ourselves and how we react in various situations the wiser we become.
Most of our most valuable life lessons come through our experiences. Yes, we learn from reading, from studying, from teachers and from consuming media, but in the end our greatest learnings from experiences we have. While our successes influence us, it is our missteps and failures that really shape who we are and bring us appreciation and perspective.
To better understand the connection between being wise and being self-aware let’s compare Merriam Webster’s definitions of the two terms:
1. Characterized by wisdom : marked by deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment
2. Evidencing or hinting at the possession of inside information : KNOWING
An awareness of one's own personality or individuality.
Self-Awareness and Leadership Effectiveness
Having spent the better part of my adult life as a leadership development practitioner, I have drawn several conclusions about the characteristics that make for the most effective leaders. There is no one set of attributes that define a great leader. Some are charismatic, some are authoritarian, some are selfless, and some are selfish. The one common thread that I have found among the best leaders I have worked with is that they are self-aware. They know their strengths and their weaknesses. More importantly they are not ashamed to admit their weaknesses to others. Some would argue this makes them wise, but I believe that it is the experiences and the failures that make someone wise. I believe that leadership capability is correlated to age and experience. While I believe in the capacity for someone in their twenties to be a great leader, that potential rarely manifests itself until later in life. As they say, there is no substitute for experience.
Ray Dalio, founder and CEO of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund gave the following advise, “As you are young, it is important to realize that your success comes from knowing how to deal with your not knowing more than it comes from anything you know. So, how to be open minded. How to take in the best of the world around you, be humble and to deal with not knowing and then you will be more successful.”
The concept of embracing the “not knowing” and being comfortable and humble about what you don’t know is a tough concept, but one that can make someone appear wise beyond their years. We live in turbulent times where technology and disruptors are changing what it takes to be successful in business. Those organizations that are excelling are learning organizations. They don’t have all the answers, but they hire smart capable people who are seeking knowledge and understanding by admitting to what they don’t know.
Admitting what you don’t know as well as your weaknesses is a sign of strength.
As a life long learner, I enjoy situations that push me outside my comfort zone. It is in these situations that I increase my self-awareness, recognize things about me that I did not know and ultimately learn new skills, information and things about myself. Would I consider myself wise? Maybe, but unequivocally, I would consider myself wiser than I was yesterday, last year and several years ago.
Are you willing to embrace “no knowing”? Are you self-aware and are you on a journey to become wiser through self reflection and being comfortable being uncomfortable?