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What to Read at This Critical Time?

What business book can help us during this crisis?

I was asked recently what business book I would recommend during the present coronavirus crisis that would help us as leaders.

Going through some of the business books I read recently, I rediscovered one by Wendelin Küpers and David J. Pauleen: A Handbook of Practical Wisdom. Leadership, Organization and Integral Business Practice. (Gowe Publishing Company, 2013). This book tells us that because of the limits of "expert knowledge and professional systems of control," we need to have a fresh look at "practical wisdom."

The idea is not new. Socrates said that we are only wise in so far as we are able to recognize and accept our limitations. For Socrates, it means the capacity for prudential judgment by which equivocal circumstances are negotiated and acted upon with a view for the common good. The common good! Aristotle called it phronesis: Wise people transmit their insights through exemplary behavior and thoughts.

Wisdom is acting not just in the intermediate self-interests of individual corporations but for the greater common good. Wisdom is the antidote to human overconfidence, the ability for enduring and coping with uncertainty. It is not to be "clever" or to have full or accurate knowledge of a condition, but to be constantly aware of the limits and limitations of knowledge.

Practical Wisdom

Practical wisdom means bringing wisdom in our everyday practices. As the authors of this great book say, we are experiencing organizational, managerial and political hubris: lack of humility, complacent attitude, narcissism.

They call it functional stupidity: the inability and/or unwillingness to use reflective capacities, be it in the economic sector, in business, in society, and in the environment, resulting in “amoral, toxic, ugly practices of leader and followership." These practices are not sustainable in the long term.

Wisdom entails a re-orientation of meanings, values, and practices. The book describes five dimensions of wisdom: values tolerance, ambiguity and uncertainty tolerance, self-insight, emotional understanding and emotional regulation, fluid and crystallized intelligence.

It also describes the four domains of personal development that develop wisdom: the cognitive, conative (the intention to act), moral, and affective domains. These personal development dimensions make us think of the four dimensions of CQ: knowledge, behavior, motivation, and reflection.

Wisdom as Practice

This great book suggests a politically informed "wisdom as practice" approach — beyond a reactive, moralizing sentimentalism — helping to bring wisdom into everyday practices.

We need practical wisdom these days. If we are to pull through, we must overcome the organizational, managerial, and political hubris we have experienced in the past: a lack of humility, complacent attitude, and narcissism.

This book looks at a re-orientation of meanings, values, and practices at a time when this is desperately needed. As leaders or employees, we cannot control everything and we must be aware of overconfidence. The book helps the readers consider the greater common good, instead of thinking of personal interests. What are my values, and how do I practice them?


Wendelin Küpers and David J. Pauleen. A Handbook of Practical Wisdom. Leadership, Organization and Integral Business Practice. (Gowe Publishing Company, 2013, 226p.)

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