Originally published on GreatLeadersServe.com

I believe there are five core leadership character traits that set leaders apart from those they lead. Unlike more common character traits like integrity, honesty and loyalty, the traits I’m referring to are what enable a leader to lead. They shape who the leader is as a person and also drive their day-to-day actions. Let’s go a little deeper on one of those traits – Hunger for Wisdom.

The best leaders are wise – some are wise beyond their years. Wisdom is the intangible ingredient that enables leaders to make good decisions in challenging or uncertain circumstances.

As you know, for a leader, the way forward is often unclear. Rarely do leaders have all the facts or complete mastery of the subject when a decision needs to be made. In other situations, a leader must choose between conflicting priorities or between multiple, good options. Wisdom allows a leader to consistently make good choices.

How can you and I grow in wisdom? Here are four ideas…

Embrace our Need for Wisdom. Arrogance and pride derail the career of many leaders. If we lose sight of our need for wisdom, we are doomed as a leader. As Toynbee discovered when studying the rise and fall of civilizations, one of the factors that repeatedly triggered demise was the application of yesterday’s answers to today’s questions. The same is true for organizations. This behavior is fueled by leaders who feel they’ve already got all the wisdom they need.

Seek Feedback and Counsel. When we seek feedback and the advice of others, we are on the path to wisdom. However, we need to understand the difference between the two – feedback is about the past; counsel is about the future. Both are critical. When we seek counsel, we are borrowing the wisdom of someone else.

Learn by Observing Others. Leaders pay attention. They are observant. We often see things others don’t. My theory is it’s because we’re looking for things others aren’t. One of those things leaders are constantly looking for is ideas that work – or don’t. Truett Cathy taught me this. He said “We don’t have to make all the mistakes ourselves, we can learn from the mistakes of others.” That’s one way to grow in wisdom.

Commit to Life-long Learning. The more I learn, the more I know how little I know. This is the ideal posture to grow in wisdom. The realization of our personal limits opens our hearts and minds to new possibilities. Possibilities fuel options. Options contribute to better decisions. A spirit of curiosity, combined with the humility required to learn, are the embers from which the fires of wisdom can ignite.

One of my favorite TV commercials these days is the “Most Interesting Man in the World” series from Dos Equis. I love the tag line: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” My encouragement to you is similar: Stay hungry my friends…hungry for wisdom!


Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and an executive at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.

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