One of the many valuable patterns that emerge in the on-going study of good leadership and superior performances is that perfect knowledge is a never-ending quest, certainly for this mortal life.
One of the challenges of the academic quest for knowledge is to decide when to act. The tendency of some scholars is then to teach, rather than actually become innovative performers.
We often see this pattern in the world of business where academics are rarely top business performers as well. This does not mean that the quest for knowledge is inferior to the passion to perform in practice. In reality, an authentic passion for knowledge inexorably leads in due course to the wisdom to act out our knowledge.
Knowledge may be defined as the ‘what’ of things. Wisdom may be defined as the ‘how’ of positive movement.
The point of this discussion is that we can never in this mortal life come to a perfect understanding of anything.
The truly wise ones among us know this to be true and they remain seekers till the day they die.
The leadership point of action
In terms of good leadership, there comes a point in every situation that we need to decide to act in faith, rather than wait indefinitely until we are more fully prepared. Yet deciding to act can very well mean, and very often does, that we may make expensive and even tragic mistakes.
How can a leader find a happy medium between the constant need to act and also the great need to act wisely and prepared?
The Old Man has invested a life time, or at least the major portion of his adult life, in trying to understand this balance between the quest for perfection of knowledge on the one hand and confidence to do the right thing and actually do something on the other.
This quest has resulted in the following realisation:
- Principle one: Good leadership is about the quest for essences. Essences are defined as authentic simplifications. .This means that good leaders, as opposed to morally deficient or poor leaders, strive to understand universal principles and essences of things, essences of people motivation, essence of situational dynamics and essence of values. It is a quest for truth in as refined a way as possible. It follows that the more we understand the essences of things around us, the less likely we are to make poor and bad decisions. It also follows that people around us tend to trust us more when we are able to zero in on essences of things.
- Principle two: Good leadership is about contextual relevance, seeing the ‘big picture’. ‘All perceptions of value are contextual’. This is a universal law of meaning and has immense relevance in helping us to understand the need to seek after the bigger picture and the fuller relevance of situations. We can be like the two gold fishes who argue about the existence of God and the one says: ‘Who do you think feeds us every day?’. Perhaps that answer may be satisfying to the gold fish, but our quest for meaning should not end at the rim of the bowel. The more we understand the big picture of situations around us, the more our understanding expands. How often do parents get frustrated when their children do not seem to understand the bigger implications of their actions? We are ultimately all children standing at the foothills of the vast mountains of the creation. As we grow in understanding our context changes. As our context changes we grow in understanding.
- Principle three: Good leadership is about situational confidence. The ability to pursue all situations with faith, trust and hope in positive results is a key attribute of good leadership. Many so-called experts and professionals may baulk at the rim of difficult situations. Good leaders cannot and do not wait until they have a perfect understanding of all facts before acting. This sounds like a contradiction and in a way it is. But situations are not moved for the good by doubts, fears and arrogance. Positive movement occurs as a consequence of positive actions.
- Principle four: Good leadership hates wastage, but are prepared to pay the price. Mistakes are made by good leaders in their pioneering journey and by those around them as well. If people claim that they have not made mistakes during the past week of their lives, then they are in denial of the laws that govern growth, change and excellence. We cannot grow without letting go of certain mindsets that stand in our way. In context with the bigger pictures of life we are making mistakes all the time. Hopefully these mistakes are not of the kind that are criminal and that can destroy our destiny, but all growth is accompanied by letting go of our limited perceptions of some kind or other. Every single conversation we have in life can generate awareness of our contextual mistakes and limited visions. We have to pay the price to grow.
In summary, as mortals we leaders cannot wait for perfect understandings of situations before we act. Our ability to act optimally will depend on:
- The ability to zero in on essences of situations. Essences are defined as authentic simplifications.
- Contextual relevance – the ability to see the bigger picture in terms of values and overriding context.
- Situational confidence – which may be defined as faith and trust in processes that move situations in a positive direction, as opposed to a complaining and blaming mindset.
- Have the courage to pay the price, which is often letting go of pride and ignorance.
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Louis and Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on email@example.com for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.