Emersion Session

What Does Wisdom in Leadership Look Like? Using Photographs to Give Voice to a Deeper Understanding

When: Thursday, 13 October | 09:00 – 16:00
Where: Various locations in Washington, DC
Facilitator: Rick Warm, Center for Wisdom and Leadership
Maximum Number of Registrants: 25

TICKET PRICES: $60 ILA Member | $81 Non-Member

Wisdom, like leadership, is a difficult concept to define. We all inherently understand and have witnessed wisdom, but explaining it is another thing altogether. Definitions and research may be helpful to explicate but do little to put wisdom into practice, let alone help us understand how to develop it. As t.s. eliot wrote in his poem The Rock, Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

In this Emersion Session we will attempt to better understand wisdom, and in particular wisdom in leadership, by answering the question, “what does leadership look like?” We will answer the question using photographs that we take – first in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian and then around Washington!

PhotoVoice is a qualitative research method that has been used primarily to give voice to marginalized groups and has been adapted for other settings to engage participants and represent ideas that are often difficult to articulate using words alone. It is fun, challenging, leads to deeper understanding, and allows us to “get out of our heads” so we can explore wisdom beyond knowledge and information from a unique and diverse perspective that gets everyone involved.

Full Description

Wisdom, like leadership, is a difficult concept to define. We all inherently understand and have witnessed wisdom, but explaining it is another thing altogether. Definitions and research may be helpful to explicate but do little to put wisdom into practice, let alone help us understand how to develop it. As t.s. eliot wrote in his poem The Rock, Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Over the past decade there has been growing interest and a steady increase in the literature on wisdom and leadership. But there is still no accepted definition of what wisdom is, what it contributes toward leadership, and how it is developed. Wisdom, like leadership, is a difficult concept to define. One reason is because wisdom is a multidimensional construct (Bassett, 2006). Wisdom researcher Caroline Bassett explains that there are two things she knows about wisdom. “One is that it does not consist of only one quality. The other is that wise people are not perfect” (Bassett, 2005, p. 6). This makes it difficult to explain. Robert Sternberg (2001) posits that wisdom balances self-interest with the interests of others and aspects of context (such as community or environmental factors). “In wisdom, one seeks the common good, realizing that this common good may be better for some than for others” (p. 231), a point many researchers agree upon (Bassett, 2005; MacDonald, 1993; Cowan & Darsoe, 2008).

One simple yet profound definition of leadership is “a relational and ethical process of people together attempting to accomplish positive change” (Komives, et. al., 2007, p. 13). Komives, Lucas and McMahon argue that leadership must be practiced in a way that is socially responsible. “The concept of common good does not mean the majority view but does mean shared purposes and common vision. This commitment to the public good or common good is a valuing of the role of social responsibility” (p. 19). This is a key point that both leadership and wisdom share. Further, they explain that leadership requires the ability to understand self, understand others and understand context – corresponding nicely with Sternberg’s definition of wisdom.

The question remains, how do we understand and then use our understanding of wisdom to impact our abilities as leaders and in situations that require leadership? The previous description of wisdom may be helpful to explicate but does little to put wisdom into practice, let alone help us understand how to develop it. Since much of the empirical research on wisdom has pointed to the importance of the common good, as we study wisdom and its impact and importance for leadership, this is a dimension that needs to be better understood in all realms, but perhaps most of all for business and political leaders. If wisdom looks to the common good and leadership, as we noted at the beginning of this proposal, encompasses a commitment to social responsibility and the common good, then wisdom should play a part in leadership education and development.

Modern scholars, intending to study wisdom beyond social constructions and cultural- historical or philosophical dimensions, began to use psychologically defined constructs. Of the psychological approaches to researching wisdom, two prominent theories have emerged, implicit and explicit (Kunzmann & Baltes, 2003; Sternberg, 1998, 2001). The implicit theoretical approach or lay theory focuses on wisdom in everyday language and situations. The explicit theoretical approach, or scholarly theory looks at wisdom from an abstract, analytical, and ideal conception of the topic (Stange, 2005).

The implicit theorists align with Sternberg’s (1990) categorization of folk conceptions of wisdom. Implicit studies focus on wisdom from a lay perspective, attempting to identify what the general public would define as wisdom and who they would consider as wise. “Thus, the goal is not to provide a ‘psychologically true’ account of wisdom, but rather an account that is true with respect to people’s beliefs, whether these beliefs are right or wrong” (Sternberg, 1998, p. 348). “Right” or “wrong” cannot be determined from this research.

Kunzmann and Baltes (2003) have cited two outcomes from this research. First, participants are able to clearly differentiate wisdom from other capacities such as creativity or intelligence. Second, the common conception of wisdom points toward its multidimensional quality. “Wisdom is thought to be ‘more’ than exceptional understanding, interpersonal skills, rational thought, or high emotional competence” (p. 330). Baltes and Staudinger (2000) draw five conclusions from implicit conceptions of wisdom including:

1. As a concept, wisdom has a specific meaning that is both shared and understood through language and
2. Ultimately wisdom involves good intentions and is used not only for the well-being of self but of others as well.

In this Emersion Session we will attempt to better understand wisdom (in leadership) from an implicit theoretical perspective. This increased understanding can help us run better organizations, create more enlightened leadership development programs, align disparate parties with a shared vision of an emerging future (Senge et. al. 2005), and explore the wisdom of interdependence and the common good. To facilitate this exploration, a qualitative research method called Photovoice will be used. This technique, developed in the 1990s by Wang and Burris (1997), has been used primarily to give voice to marginalized groups and has been successfully adapted for use in educational settings to engage students and represent ideas that are often difficult to articulate using words alone. Using a defined Photovoice process that includes instruction on photographic techniques and facilitated group discussion, participants can visually represent ideas and feelings with time to reflect and share. The result is a deeper understanding of diverse conceptions of wisdom, a safe and unique way to introduce diversity in thought, as well as a distinctly non-academic approach that allows participants to “get out of their head” and go beyond traditional ways to understand difficult and complex ideas.

Attendees will take part in the following schedule:
Hour 1: Meet in the hotel conference room, ice breaker and personal introductions, brief introduction to PhotoVoice, trial photo session and debrief.
Hour 2: Walk to the National Portrait Gallery for photo session 2 – find examples of wisdom, leadership and (or) wisdom in leadership (90 minutes).
Hour 3: Reconvene at the hotel conference room for debrief and sharing of photos.
Lunch and hours 4-5: Head out into Washington, DC to “answer” the question, “what does wisdom in leadership look like” (90 minutes).
Hour 6: Reconvene at the hotel conference room for final debrief, sharing of photos, and insights from the day.

Who is the specific target audience for this session?
Anyone who would like to gain a deeper understanding of wisdom, particularly in a leadership context for the purpose of greater understanding and the common good. It is especially important for educators as well as leaders and organizations with diverse populations.

What unique leadership learnings will attendees gain from attending this session?
First, attendees will “get out of their heads” and explore wisdom (and leadership) from a perspective that they have likely not experienced previously. Second, participants will share their insights in a unique and “safe” way while receiving feedback and outside insights that will help them see an even bigger picture perspective. Finally, all attendees will have participated in a program that helps to give voice to questions that are often difficult to answer and creates a deep, safe and fun learning environment that can lead to positive leadership insights.

Facilitator

Rick Warm

Rick Warm, Center for Wisdom and Leadership

Rick Warm is the director of the Center for Wisdom and Leadership. The crux of his work has centered on leadership and the development of wise leaders. For the last several years Rick has also focused on wisdom in “second half of life,” the midlife transition, and eldership. He has an MBA in International Business from the University of South Carolina and a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University.