From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom

Human Resource Management International Digest

ISSN: 0967-0734

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Rao, M.S. (2014), "From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom", Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 22 No. 7.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom

Article Type: Suggested reading From: Human Resource Management International Digest, Volume 22, Issue 7

Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou, John Wiley & Sons, 2013, ISBN: 9781118296202

Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou’s book From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom differentiates between smart and wise leadership and emphasizes the need for wise leadership, which is about cultivating a broader perspective and responding to external events with discernment, flexibility and authenticity. It is the foundation for lasting success.

The authors identify six capabilities that all leaders, both smart and wise, share – perspective, action orientation, role clarity, decision logic, fortitude and motivation. Wise leaders optimize those capabilities, becoming better able to: switch from a narrow focus on operation or strategy to a more holistic perspective; act both authentically and appropriately in any context; know when to lead from the front and when to step back and let others lead; make intuitive decisions that are both ethically sound and utterly pragmatic; show true courage under fire, knowing when to hold and when to fold; act consistently out of enlightened self-interest, creating value for both shareholders and society.

The book is the result of authors’ cumulative experiences, insights, study and observations. It provides a framework for executives to learn about themselves and guide their personal transformation as well as that of their organization.

The authors claim that, when interpersonal conflicts arise within the team, wise leaders resolve them by framing the conflict in a larger context.

Leaders with a growth mindset, a key characteristic of wise leadership, believe that their basic qualities can be nurtured and improved through effort.

Leaders can cultivate openness in a number of ways. Reflection and introspection are critical tools that allow people to be more open to the changing context and to use their smartness toward serving a higher purpose.

Divergent thinking is vital for creative problem-solving. Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company chief executive, has used his intellectual curiosity and boundless energy to cultivate openness at his company.

Manu, an early thinker on law and customs in Indian philosophy, said that wise leadership is about having the discernment to know how to balance authenticity and appropriateness. There are times when people need to act in accordance with their nature (who they truly are) and times when they need to act against their nature – for their own benefit as well as the larger good.

Wise leaders are not workaholics: they take time off to relax and enjoy life with their families and friends. Once a project is completed, they do not keep on thinking about it. Rather, they move on, knowing that they have done the best job they can. They measure their effectiveness based on their thoughtfulness and action orientation rather than their results.

Once people internalize their noble purpose, they no longer crave validation because their self-esteem does not depend on outside sources, and that reflects in their actions. Steve Jobs, of Apple, was so aligned with his noble purpose that he often disregarded the opinions of investors, analysts, the media and even customers – anyone, for that matter, who tried to judge or question his bold actions. Steve Jobs almost always followed his intuition.

Steve Jobs had a highly emotional personality that he channeled to create what people called a reality-distortion field – his ability to believe and convince others that the impossible was possible.

A company’s vision is not simply a nice statement to post on the wall. It needs to be a living thing. All employees must understand how that vision connects to their job. It is a leader’s responsibility to help to make the connection explicit. Leaders need to lead by example.

Integrity is the cornerstone of wise leadership. People can cultivate it by working to bridge three gaps: credibility, commitment and courage.

Brain research shows that when people face adversity, their bodies release chemicals that induce fear or anger. It takes the body 90 seconds to process these chemicals. In this interval, people have a choice of waiting or reacting. If they wait and the chemicals recede, they will be more grounded. If they do not wait, they will be more likely to make rash decisions.

Wise leaders have a constancy of purpose – they stick with their critical decisions until those decisions produce the desired results. Their perseverance comes from a sense of defending an important decision that serves a noble purpose.

Unlike smart leaders, who tend to be self-centered, wise leaders are other-centered. Practical wisdom begins subjectively, with personal benefit as the driving force, whereas spiritual wisdom begins objectively with common good as the driving force.

From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom is a well-researched book. It outlines valuable ideas and insights from business executives. It contains lots of examples and anecdotes revolving around the principles of wise leadership. The language is simple and straight-forward.

Reviewed by Professor M.S. Rao, MSR Leadership Consultants India, Hyderabad, India, available at:,

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