Conflate Power and Wisdom?

Does the fact that one has power also indicate that one is wise? Usually, it takes wisdom and perhaps luck to accomplish business success. Correct decisions are made to enable business success. A founder of a successful business acquires power. If that power indicates wisdom, what will limit continued business success? We know from many failed businesses that when power is conflated with wisdom, the quality of decision-making is diminished.

A short typical founder’s story: the startup did not come easy, but the founder persevered until the business was a success. In the beginning, no one thought the concept would work. Yes, there was an insight there, but was there a market? The founder persevered, and the concept became a product. The startup became a profitable business because the founder persevered and proved the wisdom of the concept.

Kudos to the founder, but what credit is due the naysayers along the way? As the story is often told, the critics were ignored so that the founder’s wisdom could prevail. But could the founder have prevailed without the criticism? The reality is that the founder benefited from the criticism. The founder’s concept changed because of the criticism. The founder’s will was tempered by the criticism. The wisdom and success of the founder was a reaction to the naysayers.

Now that the founder is successful and has the power to make business decisions alone based on the proof of wisdom that comes with success, where are the naysayers? It depends on the founder.

The more successful and powerful a business founder becomes, the more the founder may come to believe that wisdom resides only with that founder. As power increases there are fewer in the business who will criticize the founder. Yet, we know from experience that at some point, even very lucky founders making decisions alone will become unsuccessful. Wisdom does not come from looking in a mirror. You as an individual may have wonderful talent and capability – you may even be lucky – but over time you will not make continually wise decisions without a group. That group needs to include naysayers. Founders who remain successful understand that they are not wise to decide alone. These founders have the trait of humility.

There are many businesses run by founders where it is understood that continued employment is contingent upon a certain type of loyalty that does not include criticism of the founder-owner. This type of founder-owner must make all important decisions and will have employees who, because of the economic power of the owner, do not challenge the owner’s wisdom. The quality of decision-making and therefore the success of the business will diminish.

On the other hand, there are founder-owners who have the trait of humility. These founders understand that consistently good decisions are made with contributions from the right people at the right time with the appropriate knowledge. No one person can meet that standard. Having the authority and responsibility to make a decision does not mean the decision has to be made alone. Group decision-making does not mean group authority. However, if those who must execute the decisions have no input into the decision-making process, they will not be vested in the decision and its results.

Certainly wisdom – making good decisions – can create economic power. One who gains economic power does not necessarily take the steps to continually make good decisions. Do not conflate power and wisdom.