Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is

By David Brooks.  Originally posted to New York Times on April 15, 2021. 

Morrie Schwartz was a Brandeis sociology professor who died of A.L.S. in 1995. While he was dying, he had a couple of conversations with Ted Koppel on “Nightline” and a bunch with his former student Mitch Albom, who wrote a book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which sold over 15 million copies. For a few years, Schwartz was the national epitome of the wise person, the gentle mentor we all long for.

But when you look at Schwartz’s piercing insights … well, they’re not that special: “Accept what you are able to do and what you are not able to do.” Schwartz’s genius was the quality of attention he brought to life. We all know we’re supposed to live in the present and savor the fullness of each passing moment, but Schwartz actually did it — dancing with wild abandon before his diagnosis, being fully present with all those who made the pilgrimage to him after it.

Schwartz recruited Albom to share his quality of attention. He bathed his former student with unconditional positive regard, saw where Albom’s life was sliding into workaholism, and nudged him gently back to what he would value when facing his own death.

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How to Listen More Effectively

The election shouting may end this week—hopefully—but the feeling that no one is listening to us is likely going to linger. And not only in the political arena but at work too.

Indeed, experts say the US presidential election season, which has lasted two years, only mirrored a growing feeling among workers that their leaders talk at them, not with them. That feeling only magnified at work when video calls and masks became routine during the pandemic. “Leaders and employees are stuck in a communication cycle of giving information and providing updates instead of really connecting,” says Dennis Baltzley, Korn Ferry’s global solutions leader for leadership development.

It doesn’t help that many people, according to years of research, aren’t great listeners in the first place. That’s particularly true when the topic involves something distressing or uncomfortable, as has been much of the conversation between employees and leaders this year.

With that in mind, Korn Ferry searched for a few ways to help managers at all levels—not to mention one colleague to another—become more effective listeners.

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