Yin Leadership Strength: Wisdom


Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest leaders of all time and a famous introvert, famously said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  How does remaining silent connect to wisdom?  Lincoln’s quote points out the ironic truth that when people don’t say anything we can’t tell whether they are wise or foolish.  Being quiet itself is not the goal.  Wisdom rightly discerns when to say something and when to wait and think things through to a wiser conclusion before opening one’s mouth.  If there is one thing that is true of introverted leaders, it is that they tend to be slow to speak.  We tend to be careful, to think thoroughly through the question at hand before we offer our usually well-collected thoughts.

Wisdom, as defined in the dictionary and common usage, includes the combination of four things:

  • knowledge – the accumulation of relevant data on a given subject
  • insight – the ability to understand how that knowledge connects to the question
  • judgment – the ability to discern between different options and chose the right one
  • experience – the ability to apply that growing body of knowledge to real life

We can also understand what wisdom is by thinking about what it isn’t.  Wisdom is not:

  • premature – acting with insufficient knowledge
  • impulsive – acting before one is ready to act
  • reactionary – being overly influenced by the situation and the moment

Wisdom involves the exercise of good listening, careful data gathering, deep thinking, clear reasoning, and abstract thinking.  It normally involves slowing down the situation to allow the prefrontal cortex to fully engage in the process of rational thought.

One thing that should be clear from all of the discussion above is that introverted leaders are naturals at the development of these kinds of competencies.  Your introversion as a leader doesn’t guarantee that you will make wise decisions, but it does set you up to follow this path.  If you operate from your natural strengths, wisdom is something you will be able to cultivate.  Lean in to your uniquely wonderful temperament and be the sage you were made to be.  Your organization will thank you for it.

As the great philosopher Jimi Hendrix once said, “Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.”

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