Transformation and Transcendence for Wisdom: The Emergence and Sustainment of Wise Leaders and Organizations


Transformation is a possibility in the mind of every social revolutionary and the awakening of consciousness that gives meaning to life for many people.

-McWhinney and Markos 2003: 22

Learning, change, and evolution have never been more needed than they are today. The problems confronting organizations, communities, and the planet are severe, complex, and have proven intractable (Hays 2012). The opportunities for bettering the world are immense but seemingly elusive. New ways of thinking, operating, and being are needed to address these challenges.

We must transform ourselves to transform the world. The wisest amongst us recognize this principle more so than most. But how do we become wise? How do we know what needs to change or how to go about it? This chapter attempts to answer these questions. It emphasizes that wisdom can be developed and fostered. It provides possible ways individuals, organizations, and communities can cultivate and make the best use of their inherent potential for wisdom and transformation.

A Context for Transformation and the Critical Role of Wisdom

A transformation in the way we lead and develop leaders in keeping with the scope of challenges confronting organizations and nations today is imperative. The consequences of continuing to lead as we have done in the past – with little regard for the greater good and the future of the planet – are dire. We require wise leadership and organizations and societies that act wisely. But how is such transformation achieved? Moreover, once transformed, how can we ensure that leaders and groups continue to do the right thing in an environment that continually poses new threats and opportunities, the seeds many of which we, ourselves, sowed in years past, not knowing or disregarding the risks (Hays 2012).

The answer is deceptively simple. We need to stay in a continuing process of transforming – of becoming – learning, adapting, and evolving. Remaining in the process of transforming is crucial to keep pace with change, not to mention anticipating and preparing for threats and opportunities that may arise. Remaining in a constant state of becoming requires transcendence – the missing link in understanding and facilitating transformation. If nothing else, transcendence means ‘getting over ourselves’. What this entails is the focus of this chapter.

Wisdom is doing the right thing for the greater good, all things considered (Hays 2007). This means going beyond self-interest, having a perspective transcending organizational or national borders, and privileging tomorrow over today. It means redefining the way things are and transforming and evolving ourselves. It means seeing possibilities, drawing on untapped resources, and identifying what may be limiting thinking, learning or performance. This may all require openness, flexibility, and humility that do not come easily.

Many would agree that these are laudable virtues. Regrettably, some believe they are incompatible with business motives or sit outside corporate responsibility. Such archaic beliefs impede us from forging productive relationships and working in the new and different ways demanded by complex, intractable problems. These and many other subversive beliefs are the more insidious because they usually operate outside our awareness and are, thus, beyond our control.

Mindful awareness is a quality of wisdom (Smith 2007), but where does it come from? How do we become more attentive and perceptive? How do we attain and sustain consciousness of ourselves and our dynamic environment as they interact, being both parts of and detached from the interaction? Given that extraordinary foresight and insight are possible, how can we see beyond that which we normally see? How can we bring into being that which is yet unconceived? As we will see, the transcendence process is the key to opening up new worlds of possibility.

References
__Hays, J. (2007). Dynamics of organizational wisdom. The Business Renaissance Quarterly, 2(4), 77-122. 

__Hays, J. (2012). Wicked problem: educating for complexity and wisdom. Paper presented at the Wise Management in Organisational Complexity Conference, 23-24 May 2012, Shanghai, China. Revised version, same title (in press), in Wise Management in Organisational Complexity, edited by M. Thompson; D. Bevans. Palgrave Macmillan Basingstoke.

__McWhinney, W.; Markos, L. 2003. Transformative education: across the threshold. Journal of Transformative Education, 1(1), 16-37. 

__Smith, C. 2007. Working from the inside out: management and leadership through the lens of the perennial wisdom tradition. Journal of Management Development, 26(5), 475-83.


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