Knowledge and Competence Are Overrated – Get Wise

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This fall I celebrated a major milestone in terms of time as a successful independent consultant and business owner. It’s been a real learning and growth experience for me – and while knowledge and competence are essential, it’s wisdom that only emerges through time, experience and lots of reflection. After several hundred project engagements over this time period, I’ve acquired some very practical insights regarding strategic facilitation and executive feedback.

wisdomWhile these observations reflect my own experience and may be filtered by my beliefs, expectations, and biases, I’ve seen enough commonality across different clients and variable contexts to identify clear patterns and themes. Some of these may not be surprising but they may clarify or solidify your own observations and insights. Ideally, you’ll see that knowledge and competence aren’t enough – wisdom is critical. It’s that ability – gained through time and experience – to apply a blend of knowledge, insight, self-awareness, compassion, common sense and principles to make good decisions and take appropriate action.

Here are three key bits of wisdom, acquired over the years, while facilitating team conversations regarding future direction:

1. Clarify what’s really needed

Far too often, leaders will conclude they need an updated plan or new strategy in response to challenges facing their business. Whether it’s increasing competition, declining market share or new technologies that affect their existing business model, the push is to revamp what exists or create something new. Instead, what’s required is specific focus and resolution of long-standing and perhaps recurring issues, improved execution in specific areas of the business, more responsive customer focus or even better measures of performance. Seek out these alternate ‘fixes’ before jumping into planning or strategy fixes.

2. Focus on behaviour

At the end of day, success in advancing the way forward relies on people’s active engagement in the process and commitment to agreed-upon results. This includes each team member’s commitment to realize his/her own responsibilities as well as to support colleagues in their efforts. Leaders have a vital role to play in modeling the engagement, commitment and accountability needed to realize success. Be sure to address deficits in both team dynamics and interpersonal behaviours before, during and after your conversations regarding future direction.

3. Watch for the quick fix

All too often, meaningful conversations about the way forward are allocated a specific date and time for discussion among team members. I can’t count the number of times I’ve received calls from prospective clients asking for assistance with a one-day or multi-day planning or strategy session. The assumption is that the event will provide the needed direction and supporting actions to advance the business on an updated or new path. Realistically – this just doesn’t work. These types of conversations can be leveraged with some kind of initial kick-off event but ongoing dialogue and updates must be integrated into the regular team conversations that take place throughout the year.

Some key learnings of mine gained from helping senior executives effectively leverage leadership feedback include:


1. Share your true self

In my experience, particularly in high-profile, more highly regulated or very public facing organizations, there’s a tendency to adopt an ‘organizational profile’ that fits the expectations by stakeholders of you as senior leader (e.g., SVP, EVP, COO, CEO, President). While this may be the safer approach in terms of leading and managing the organization, what’s really desired by others is more of the ‘real’ you. Staff, board members, key clients and others — believe it or not – hunger for those moments when you can let down your guard and share your unique perspective, sense of humour or special attribute while respecting others.

2. Be laser-focused in your efforts

One of the toughest tasks for senior leaders is to maintain their focus on what really matters. With so many issues and players demanding their time and attention, it’s challenging to keep what’s most important front and centre. Watch for scope creep on your list of ‘priorities’ – see if you can stay with a few big-ticket items to advance over the next 24-36 months. Work hard to postpone, defer or cancel appealing new priorities that just don’t fit your agenda – regardless of your interest and others’ appetites.

3. Leave a legacy

While many senior leaders do an admirable job of meeting key goals, realizing success and truly advancing their organizations, fewer seem to actually consider the legacy that they want to leave behind. Achieving strategic priorities for your company is essential but ask your yourself: What memorable difference will I make during my term? What will others remember you for beyond ‘being successful?’ Are there one or two truly key initiatives for which you want to be recognized, remembered and honored? This is not about your ego but about using your energy and passion to make a real difference for your people, your organization and perhaps even the broader community.

Knowledge and competence are indeed important, but wisdom enables you to advance your agenda much more effectively – with greater impact and success.

In summary, my suggestions for effective future-oriented conversations include clarifying what’s really needed, focusing on behaviour – both at the individual and team level – and avoiding the tendency for quick fixes. Insights for leaders to best leverage stakeholder feedback are: share your true self, maintain a laser focus in terms of your efforts and work diligently to leave a memorable and meaningful legacy.

If you want to experience more effective team conversations regarding future direction or obtain high-quality and insightful executive feedback, reach out to me at [email protected] or 250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

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