An Unwise Leader

We all like to talk about wisdom. Because we believe a wise leader can make high-quality and timely decisions for his/her people, we believe that such a leader can help the organization gain a competitive advantage in an ever-changing market. Are wise leaders born that way? For some, maybe. Is there a way for leaders to develop managerial wisdom?

The short answer is yes.

But to understand how to develop wisdom, we first need to have a clear picture about what being unwise looks like to avoid becoming that.

We can call the unwise “pre-logical thinkers”[1], because they mostly won’t use logical and critical thinking when reacting to problems or making decisions.

The first feature of pre-logical thinkers is they can only think of short-term consequences/effects of problems or decisions. They won’t conduct further analysis on the long-term effects of decisions or incidents. They only rely on immediately available or observable information when making judgments and lack the ability or motivation to explore deeper causes of certain issues or how problems are formed.

A pre-logical manager may immediately use downsizing as a way to deal with increased cost instead of looking for the reasons of cost increases and addressing the issues accordingly.

Pre-logical thinkers tend to respond emotionally to statements rather than analyze them logically. They take constructive feedback or questions related to their work as attacks on themselves and respond emotionally and irrationally. Therefore, they will take others’ suggestions on improving the internal work process of their units as attacks on their work ethics (“You think I didn’t work hard enough!”) — and respond with anger and aggression.

They only focus on one element at a time and lack the ability to perceive and analyze multiple relevant profits in the situation and conduct comprehensive analyses.

In the above mentioned situation, they are only able to focus on how hard they themselves work, but they do not consider other variables that can affect the efficiency of work processes, such as their employees’ motivation and attitudes, which also affect work outcomes. Such thinking limits their abilities to fully understand the situation and come up with proper solutions.

Because they can only think one step ahead, instead of seeing the bigger picture, they are more open to deception by what is presented on the surface.

Pre-logical thinkers tend to blame others for problems and believe others must be changed if problems are to be solved. This makes it hard to motivate them to improve themselves through learning and development efforts. They also become obstacles for changing efforts within the organization because the problems are never their fault and they don’t need to change.

The lack of managerial wisdom puts these managers and the groups they lead at great disadvantage in this competitive world. Understanding and being aware of these roadblocks and blind spots are the first steps toward developing wisdom.

In my next blog, we will talk about strategies on developing managerial wisdom.

[1] Koplowitz, H. (1984, August). Post-logical thinking. Paper presented at the Harvard International Conference on Thinking, Cambridge, MA.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.