Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
Blog, Leadership

The Best Leaders are Philosophers

Wisdom scavengers. That’s how some describe philosophers. It fits. The literal meaning of a philosopher is one who is in love (phileo) with wisdom (sophia). The better leaders are not mere technocrats or politicians or corporate heads. They are philosophic in their approach. They ask the larger questions of meaning. They want to be in step with reality. And so, along the way, they pick up scraps of wisdom.

But what is wisdom? “It is one of those words everybody knows and no one defines” (Weiner, The Socrates Express). However, I like the way Waltke described the wise, likening them to skillful mariners. Wise leaders are those with the navigational skills to lead oneself and others through life like a well-steered ship.

Solomon once wrote that it is by wisdom leaders lead (Prov 8:12). Wisdom enables a leader to—

  -get in step with God—rather than be off the path, out of line

  -discern reality—as well as recognize unreality

-know the difference between pleasure and joy/ sentimentality and compassion/ tolerance and forgiveness

  -realize that what you sow you reap—and what you don’t sow, you don’t reap

-recognize that the greener grass has its brown spots.

Wise leaders operating at the helm know where the boundaries are. They can see when rest crosses the line and turns into laziness; authoritative leadership drifts into autocratic leadership; and confidence inflates into pride. They also discern that life has its paradoxes—

  -the more you talk, the less people listen

  -the more you scratch, the more it itches

  -the more you keep, the less you have

The wise leader avoids becoming closed-minded, trying to stuff everything into one’s prefabricated categories. One stops to listen, knowing it takes some time to really hear. One must give as much attention to the question as one does to the answer. In the same way, the skilled pause to look, knowing it takes a long time before one can really see.

As Plantinga puts it, wise leaders have a knack for fitting in. “They tear along the perforated line.”

The wisest of the wise realize that wisdom is far more than sanctified experience or domestic tips. It begins with a relationship with God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 1:7). This is “the soul of godliness.” To stand in awe of God is to be wise at the most basic level (JI Packer). These are the ultimate philosophers–the ultimate leaders.

Now—if we could only find them.

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