THE BLOG
03/15/2013 12:02 pm ET Updated May 14, 2013

Letting Wisdom Lead: Are You Leading With Your Heart and Your Gut?

Psychologists, philosophers, educators, neuroscientists and clergy have all weighed in on what "wisdom" is. Each sees wisdom from her or his unique viewpoint of the world. Much of the past history of leadership has focused on IQ. Over the last 20+ years the additional evidence of EQ (Emotional Quotient) has been added to the discussion on wise leadership.

Let's look at this from a "brain" perspective. In this blog I'm referring to a brain as a mass of neurons that communicate with other parts of the body. We all know about the physical brain in our head. What about the other two brains, one in our heart and one in our gut?

Our enteric nervous system, the mass of neurons embedded in the wall of your digestive system, contains some 100 million neurons. That's more than all the neurons in your spinal column. According to Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at U.C.L.A., these neurons communicate directly from the gut to the brain, not the other way around. Part of this communication has to do with fundamental processing of food. Additional research indicates that there are other messages communicated to the brain such as emotions. These emotions have a great influence on what we refer to as gut feeling, sometimes called intuition or hunch.

In a sense there is a type of wisdom associated with our hunches. This is a critical skill for emerging leaders to develop. Paying attention to a hunch and testing it builds experience and confidence in using this neural communication to the brain. My recommendation is to test it every single time, even if you have confidence that the information is correct. This way, you're becoming more aware of your hunches and building the habit of testing the information so you know you can rely on it instead of hoping you can. You'll also fine-tune the precision of understanding what your hunch means.

The next brain is your heart. Recent research in the field of neurocardiology indicates that the heart is more than just a simple pump. The neurons in the heart enable it to make functional decisions independent of the workings of the brain in your head. Additional research indicates that the heart brain influences perception, cognition and emotions.

Research at the Institute of HeartMath indicates that heart communication flows throughout the entire body, not just direct communication with the head. In fact they have proposed that the heart's electromagnetic field provides a global synchronizing signal for the entire body. Even more interesting, this electromagnetic field also impacts the emotions of others within close proximity.

As soon as we start talking about the heart, we are also referring to love. Like wisdom, love also has been studied extensively by psychologists, philosophers, educators, neuroscientist and clergy. In the past five years loving as a leadership skill has been suggested by educators, CEOs and the consultants they hire. We are talking about the form of loving referred to by the Greeks as agape love, not the romantic kind of loving frowned upon within most organizational environments. This type of loving has more to do with how a person behaves towards another, not our feelings about them. It implies a selfless relationship, not an ego based relationship.

We are already seeing the integration of the heart showing up with emerging leaders. They seem to be hard-wired for loving, not unlike their networking and natural abilities with technology. How do we know? Look at where they spend their time and the organizations they are involved with. One excellent example is the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. This organization, dedicated to leadership development for their members is some 40,000 strong. Here we have 40,000 emerging leaders focused on following the call of their heart.

In an organizational environment that is now networked, interconnected, rapidly transforming and constantly in motion leaders, especially emerging leaders, are being called forward to a more inclusive form of leadership. We are moving from knowledge based leadership towards wisdom based leadership.

I would propose that wisdom is an integration of head, heart and hunch tempered through the experience of the individual. Wisdom isn't so much of a skill that one develops, rather it is a state of being that emerges from within the leader from the experience of integrating head, heart and hunch.

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This integration process requires one more "h" word - hands. Leaders must engage and interact to further the integration of head, heart and hunch. It is through the crucible of experience and testing their senses, making less than optimal decisions and fine-tuning their perceptions that true wisdom begins to emerge.

As our world transforms, those who would lead this transformation - and themselves - will be those who successfully integrate head, heart, hunch and hands.