THE BLOG
03/29/2013 01:08 pm ET Updated May 29, 2013

Are Your Young Leaders Ready for the Wisdom Economy?

In the last 30 years, humanity has been transforming at an ever-increasing rate. We have witnessed the focus of the world shifting from the Information Age and on to the Knowledge Age. Humanity is in the midst of another shift that is just beginning to emerge, the Wisdom Age.

In concert with this emerging age is a shift in the economy from the knowledge economy to the wisdom economy. The term "wisdom economy" was coined by Earl Cook in a 1982 paper on the consumer as creator. This shift implies a level of self-reflection, non-linear and non-rational, all taking place in the work environment.

When the world's information and accumulated knowledge are a click away on your favorite search engine, how is your organization going to differentiate your offerings? Can your organization compete with the economies of China and India where the number of honor students is greater than all students in the United States? Information and accumulated knowledge have become a commodity. What may be missing is the wisdom of what to use and when.

The rising generation of young leaders seems wedded to technology, for example tweeting a person in the next cube, instead of having a clear human-to-human interaction. There is a deeper issue to be considered.

More than any generation of emerging leaders, the rising generation is faced with increasing levels of collaboration, inclusiveness, ambiguity, paradox, complexity and the need to be agile while producing results within a team environment. Command and control models of leadership are just too slow and miss too much that needs immediate attention.

In the past, the leader model was just that -- there was "a" leader. Today, anyone and everyone leads in moments of opportunity. In essence, we are seeing a change from what a person has to do as a leader to a model of whom a person is as a leader. As Peter Senge has written, "Why do we obsess over action strategies rather than look at our state of being?"

It is here that organizations can leverage a future asset that will be increasingly coveted by their competition. Preparing your young leaders to know whom they are, who others are (and how they differ) and the culture within which they find themselves is much more valuable than a case study on how to emulate an influential leader from history.

This is only the first step. These young leaders must learn how to develop their own innate sense of wisdom that is emerging from within themselves. They must also learn how to collaborate and include the wisdom that is emerging from within other team members. They have an opportunity to move much more quickly toward success than previous generations of leaders. The ancient Japanese proverb, "None of us is smarter than all of us" is a good catchphrase of these emerging leaders.

How are wisdom leaders different from knowledge leaders? All too often we have seen knowledge leaders follow a hectic life path. They seek to accumulate knowledge from outside of themselves, resulting in no "off the job" time for self-reflection. A wisdom leader may also have a hectic life path, yet the wisdom leader will self-reflect on issues and often will seek the self-reflections of others on their team. Knowledge leaders seek to control their external environments while wisdom leaders seek to control themselves.

Self-reflection can be accomplished by doing something as straightforward as focusing on breathing in and out. This isn't something that most people do in their daily routines, yet they still continue to breathe. While focusing on the breath, various levels of consciousness will try to distract a person's awareness. The body will suddenly be uncomfortable, and desires for food or biological relief will emerge. The imagination will flare up with all sorts of creative ideas. The emotions will complain about a recent or historical wrong that needs to be righted. The mind will judge, most often saying, this is a stupid exercise and a waste of time.

All of these emerging thoughts, emotions, imaginings, and physical distractions can easily be worked with by keeping a pencil and paper close at hand. When a distraction appears, simply write it down and refocus on the breath. Nothing need be done with the distraction at that time. You may choose to organize and take action on what you have written or you may choose to do nothing.

This simple process allows young leaders to gather themselves and focus without the usual chatter that happens within each of us. Preparing your young leaders to bring more of who they are into their working environment provides multiple benefits to the organization. They can:

  • Become more flexible and confident in their leadership
  • Have an easier time making crucial decisions
  • Create a more energized team, producing greater levels of success
  • Work with challenges in a more positive and less anxious way

What is your strategy to prepare the next generation of leaders to leverage the emerging wisdom economy? Are your program focused on helping them know themselves, know others and know the culture within which they live?