Smart Versus Wise
For leaders, it’s always better to be wise than to be smart. Of course, it takes wisdom to know that. Smart leaders know things. Wise leaders know what to do with that knowledge.
We say some people are wise beyond their years. There is no similar expression for smart. At best, we say some people are clever, which is a smart person with imagination.
It is widely accepted that becoming wise requires experience. Experience informs judgments and how we think about a problem. It is judgment that most discerns whether someone is smart, wise, or both.
Wise leaders apply a wide range of knowledge, personal experience, and established insights to inform their judgments. Smart leaders depend on their intelligence, logic, and data to reason, believing this will produce accurate conclusions. Wise leaders believe sound judgment is more important than the power to reason with facts.
Smart means you can solve a problem, apply your brainpower to a situation, and think on your feet. Wise means you know what problems are worth your effort, what situations to avoid, and how to edit what you say so as to preserve relationships.
Other than acquiring more life experience, how can a smart leader become wiser? The answer is to develop an increasing sense of empathy toward others. The more leaders think about how their actions and choices will affect those around them, the more their judgments incorporate the subtle context critical for sound judgments.
Thinking through the intended and unintended consequences for others regarding everything they do is how smart leaders become wise. No wonder experts believe great leadership is tied directly to wisdom. Smart leaders know what to say and do. Wise leaders know when to say it and do it.
The last two paragraphs here nailed the importance of this distinction home quite well!
What a fantastic breakdown of an important distinction. I used to work in higher ed, and I would often see job ads for top administrative roles (president or VPs) that would call for “data-driven decision making.” This was supposed to weed out the ones who just winged it from the ones who were steely-eyed realists, but actually it privileges smarts over wisdom.
There is nothing wrong with data-driven decision making so long as data is just one tool among many.