My father’s first sermon was delivered at the Bowery Mission in New York City. He began with a rhetorical question: “Would you rather be wise or foolish?” Unfortunately for him, one of the inebriated attendees shouted out his answer from the back of the room: “Foolish!”

Thankfully, readers of this newsletter would opt for wise. But like so many things of value, wisdom is not acquired simply as the result of passing time. Wisdom takes work.

Wisdom Building Statistical Strategies

Most of us have strategies that are statistically successful. That is, they work more often than not.

One of my statistically successful strategies is taking the words of clients seriously. When a client says, “I’m really struggling to develop a vision for the next three years of this organization,” I don’t respond, “I’m sure you’re doing fine. You’ve always come up with a clear vision that has motivated your organization to success.”

Instead I ask…

“Why do you think you’re struggling? You’ve always done well with crafting vision in the past. What has changed?”

Another statistically successful strategy has been speaking directly about issues to people. “You say you want to spend more time with your family, but you seem to draw meaning almost entirely from your work. What will motivate you to change your current behaviors?”

Both strategies have failed.

One of my favorite examples was lunch with the CFO of a multinational corporation. He asked me, “Stephen, what motivates you? What is it that you are seeking to achieve?” Without hesitation I responded, “My mission is to free people to be themselves.”

About five minutes later, my lunch companion remarked, “Reflecting back on your comment about freeing people to be themselves, I can assure you that as CFO I have absolutely no interest in seeing that happen.”

Each of us has strengths and statistically successful strategies that arise from our personality and gifting. They come naturally. We don’t have to work at them or even think consciously about employing them. They flow from us. It could be listening, encouraging, evaluating, critiquing, directing, advising, motivating, or any of 1,000 additional gifts.

Wisdom Building Through Natural, Non-Conscious Strengths And Gifts

Wisdom comes when we take these natural, nonconscious strengths and gifts and begin to consciously shape their expression.

By modifying these statistically successful strategies to be even more successful. We learn to read our audience, understand the context, consider the timing, and thereby modify what comes naturally. Take the nonconscious and make it conscious. Make the statistically successful even more productive. It becomes a super-strength.

This requires thought, effort, and nuance. This requires work.

It may also require humility as we learn from others who advise us how to be more successful in the expression of our strengths.

How do I become wise? I read my clients and understand that they don’t intend for their words to be taken seriously in this context. I recognize that directness would not be appropriate at this time.

Where can you move from statistically successful strategy to wisdom? Move from natural strength and gifting to super-strength? Are you willing to invest the energy, the work, required for this transformation? Are you willing to accept input from those around you?

Let those around you observe in your behavior that you are shouting, “I want to be wise!”


Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.

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