Can You Fast Track Wisdom? Yes – Through Active Listening And Learning!

During the course of multiple conversations with top leaders on the Leadership Platform Show on CliffCentral, the discussions often illuminate the dire need for emotional intelligence and wisdom in combating the challenges that leaders have to face on a daily basis. CEOs often work under extreme pressures to perform and in spite of exceptionally high income they often have to withdraw because of the high price paid in mental, emotional and physical health. For example, how many top level performers in the world suffer a breakdown in their family life directly as a result of work commitment?  

What experienced leaders say

Time and time again we find that top performers with years of experience and the privilege of hind-sight invariably testify of the need for wisdom, values and context. They may use different terms to express their opinions but it really amounts to the same thing – a modern leader needs to seek after wisdom and emotional maturity in order to hope to be able to cope effectively. Almost everybody agrees that the task of leaders has grown exponentially in terms of need for quicker decision making, dealing with environmental impact, expectations of stake holders and coping with the waves of the digital explosion. 

The How question!

In general, the need for maturity and wisdom is not questioned, but acquiring these attributes is another question altogether! Bernard Swanepoel summed up the ‘how’ dilemma recently on the Leadership Platform Show when he explained how intense the work commitment is for a top leader in the difficult gold mining industry. He or she does not have time to ponder and reflect on things such as emotional intelligence except for the occasional lip service contact. It is normally only after years of tough experience that the penny drops. ‘If only’ then becomes a factor in the mind of the honest evaluator. Top executives are often young people with the energy and passion to take on ambitious challenges. In fact, in our society it has become common practice to send the older and experienced leaders out to pasture. Bear in mind that those who appoint top leaders, especially in the business world, very often are only looking for short term bottom line performance and they are not really equipped or willing to appreciate the overall need for experience and wisdom.

The need to learn wisdom from others  

Bernard Swanepoel was asked after all the years of being a tone setting leader, what would he do differently? He answered: “I would listen more.” He went on to say he would listen more especially on a one to one basis.

On our show ‘listening’ is often mentioned as a very important skill of leaders. Yet we feel that many inexperienced leaders do not necessary grasp the significance of what Bernard was telling us. Many of us often acknowledge the important of listening to others as a key tool in building respect and trust but we may miss out on the extent to which listening and leadership conversations can assist us in having the wisdom and insight of others rub off on us.

Leadership fit

At Leadership Platform we often use the term ‘leadership fit’ to capture the importance of a daily program of ‘top of mind’ contact with seamless leadership thinking and feeling. Listening with respect for the dignity, potential and contribution of others at all levels of the organisation is a proven and powerful way to remain leadership fit. Bernard emphasised the value of learning from the people who work at the pit face of the organisation. The people who are in direct contact with the essence of the organisation (blasting rock faces, dealing with the customer or stake holders, etc.) may not have the experience or skills to handle the top jobs, but they very often have skills, insights and wisdom that senior leaders do not have, or worse, have forgotten to remember. Bernard tells us that he was amazed as a young man how wise the workers at pit level could be, but he lost some of this awareness as he rose in the organisation.

Fast tracking wisdom

Wisdom is not necessarily the sole possession of experienced and older people. After all, experience is often the accumulation of negative and ignorant habits and does not guarantee wisdom in all areas of life.

Wisdom is acquired by listening, thinking, feeling and value driven choices.

Leaders may feel they do not have the time to dedicate to self-mastery and reflection, but all leaders have almost unlimited opportunities to master the art of conversational listening, learning and then doing.

The older style of leadership is a ‘telling’ style only that often results in stagnancy and loneliness as a leader.

I am 74 years old and I believe that almost every conversation I have is a learning experience and as a result I believe that a listening mind-set can help me make a better contribution to helping others as well.

Our conversations can and do have a significant ‘rubbing off’ of wisdom on all of us if we try it out with real intent to learn and grow.

For more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation, contact us on




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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