Yes. Poverty has always existed. And street violence. And lack of access to education. And wars. And, and… It’s not that the times we live in are unprecedented in terms of issues, but it is certainly different in terms of how fast things happen. Technology has allowed hyper targeted messaging to reach audiences in seconds, accelerating not only communication but also injecting a good dose of dehumanization in our society. The way cultural norms have evolved through an almost infinite access to all types of content has altered what’s acceptable and what’s not, and leadership must be, consequently, redefined.
Leadership is a context sport. I define it as the art and craft of changing the conditions so certain pre-established goals can be met. Altering conditions may throw a system out of balance, so that’s why leadership requires a good dose of wisdom.
The most important aspect of wise leadership is what I call “timeness”: the ability to put in perspective past, present and future before decisions are made. I know, it’s not a word, but having English as my third language, coining new words is something I can afford doing. It’s not about “timing” your action (right time), but about making wise decisions while considering lessons learned in the past, the current moment, and the future consequences of actions taken today. I have made one or two decisions lately that were not wise, basically because I didn’t stop to think about the past, my present and the future consequences.
Imagine the following decision-making loop: assess circumstances, develop plausible scenarios (action and reaction / risks and consequences), act (take one), observe and learn. First, you need to take time to work on scenarios. Second, you need to consciously develop the habit of “thinking slow”, as Kahneman puts it. Every decision is a shift in direction in your life, both personal and professional. Some of them are small adjustments, while others are major changes. As leaders, our decisions not only affect the course of our own path, but those of many others. There is an even higher level of responsibility and accountability when you take decisions as leaders.
When circumstances push us to move even faster, our reflective side must kick in to slow down the world around us and let us make conscious, wise decisions. Wise leadership is genuinely associated with the greatest feats, yet they will only be truly wise if we take the necessary time to think before we act. Modulate your impulses with scenario planning, temperance and a good learning plan.
Dr. Juan “Kiko” Suarez is the Chief Community Impact Officer at the United Way of Central Indiana. As a member of United Way’s executive team, Suarez is responsible for evolving and executing United Way’s community impact activities in education, financial stability, health and basic needs. A native of Spain and a resident of the central Indiana, Suarez brings a unique blend of international experience in strategic planning and philanthropy, community relations and communications to United Way. Among his many publications and speeches, Suarez presented “Eight dimensions of wise design that could change everything” at TEDx at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in 2014.