04/17/2013 03:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Smart and Wise Leadership: An Interview with Prasad Kaipa

In The Age of the Platform, I wrote extensively about the leadership exhibited by leaders from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Leadership is a fascinating subject and thousands of books have been written about the subject. An interesting new text comes from Navi Radjou and Prasad Kaipa. Their new book From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom has just been released. I sat down with Kaipa to discuss the book.

PS: What's From Smart to Wise about?
PK: From Smart to Wise is based on more than 20 years of research on companies and their leaders--and what makes them influential and effective. It's about leaders paying attention to the changing context and taking action. Each of us has different types of intelligence--as well as wisdom--but over time, we begin to tap into one kind of smartness and ignore the other. Our book presents a framework to tap into different kinds of smartness and wisdom based on the context (internal and external), and to become effective, innovative, and successful leaders in these times of complexity. The idea behind our book is to help leaders recognize the limitations of smartness and learn what it takes to be wise.

PS: Why does today's interconnected, complex business environment demand wisdom rather than smartness in its leaders?
PK: When everybody is connected, secrets don't last very long. Similarly, competence spreads and it's difficult to control communication. When complexity increases, traditional models of competition don't work. Using intelligence to focus on self-interest begets more and more silos and less and less cooperation from others. But due to our interconnectedness, we have to depend on others in the ecosystem to work with us on one front while competing with us on another front.

For example, Samsung is supplier of screens for Apple, while it is a competitor on the smartphone front. Similarly, Boeing cooperates and competes with Airbus in different areas. In such a world, enlightened self-interest, context sensitivity, ethical clarity, and detached engagement (engagement without emotional entanglement) help us make better decisions, clarify roles, and take effective actions and differentiate from others through image rather than products and services. These are wise leader characteristics.

PS: How can smartness keep leaders from making wise decisions?
PK: By itself, smartness is necessary and important to be competitive and successful. But if we become conditioned to applying it only in certain ways, we miss out on opportunities to grow and contribute to ourselves and our organizations over time. We act on autopilot, using old recipes that brought us past successes, and we rarely reflect on the changing context and become introspective to learn effectively from our failures.

It's also difficult to listen to others and take advice when we're operating from the smart state of mind. Because of the need of smart leaders to be quick and decisive, reflection and introspection that would help them tap into their wisdom don't occur often enough, and that prevents them from making good decisions and taking effective actions.

PS: How do you define smart and wise leadership?
PK: All leaders have to make decisions, take actions, and assign roles. Smart leaders focus on action and the application of intelligence to come up with the right vision and strategy, regardless of the context. Wise leaders repurpose smartness by using reflection and introspection as probes to bring context sensitivity. Then, they focus on noble purpose and enlightened self-interest in order to engage with their role fully without being emotionally entangled with it.

PS: How does your book help smart leaders become wise?
PK: The book shares stories of how smart leaders acted wisely and over time, became wise leaders. In our framework, we identify six capabilities that all leaders have to learn in order to excel. We include real leaders' stories, question guides, and offer tips to help readers make choices about appropriate leadership style. In other words, we are raising questions about smart leadership, giving examples of wise leadership, helping readers to do gap analysis of themselves (they can take a free wise leadership assessment at our website to find out where they fall on the spectrum from smart to wise), and giving them opportunity to transform themselves and people around them. It's their choice to change or not--wisdom cannot be imported from outside; one has to unlearn foolishness from the inside out!

PS: Where is leadership heading? Why is the world producing weaker leaders these days?
PK: Leadership is no longer about being a hero or having power and control. In the global, complex, technology-dominant world, leadership is not about management role or positional power. It is as much about followership. The key is to realize that leadership is very different from the leader. By learning to contribute to others and helping others to become leaders, by being passionate but not fanatical, by focusing on noble purpose instead of self-interest, anybody in the organization can make a big difference to others while benefiting oneself through enlightened self-interest.

We are producing weaker leaders because ethics are not important anymore for many people, and speed has become the mantra. In terms of doing business, anything goes as long as you produce results--fast!

Finally, leadership is not anointed anymore but earned through trust, authenticity, and contribution. These are spiritually eternal principles that have been forgotten in past few decades, but are becoming more important all over again.

Prasad Kaipa is the coauthor, with innovation expert Navi Radjou, of From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom (Jossey-Bass, April 2013). A CEO advisor and coach based in Silicon Valley, he writes popular blogs for HBR and Forbes, speaks, and consults internationally. He has been featured prominently in the national business media. Learn more at the book's site.