Are You a Wisdom Hoarder?

Fred was livid with his performance appraisal. He had consistently been a strong project manager in his organization for several years, having received top-of-tier raises and bonuses from Gary, his previous manager. Earlier in the year he was reorganized into a new organization led by Janet, a seasoned and well-respected leader in the company. While Fred’s raise and bonus were respectable, he was not rated in the top tier of the organization. The two sat down to discuss his performance appraisal.

“Janet, this is the first time since working for this company I haven’t gotten an outstanding rating. I delivered everything on time, on budget, and within scope. Gary always gave me an outstanding rating and I did everything this year I’ve done in the past. What gives?”

“I’m glad we’re talking about this, Fred. Do you remember the discussion we had when you first joined my organization?”

“I do,” Fred said. “We talked about needing to be excellent in our delivery.”

“Yes, and what else did we talk about?”

Fred stopped for a minute, trying to remember what Janet was referring to. Janet took his pause as not having an answer.

“Let me help you,” Janet said. “You are one of the most senior project managers in the organization and you have a lot to teach those coming up behind you. I asked you to mentor Gail. She’s an up-and-comer with a lot of potential. She told me you only met once and that the only advice you gave her was to work hard. Do I understand that right?”

“Well, we just couldn’t find convenient times to meet,” Fred stammered.

“Come on, Fred, in six months you couldn’t find time to meet with her? Growing her skills is something I care deeply about, and I wanted you to invest in her. You didn’t do it. Why?”

“Look Janet, you pay me to deliver projects. That’s what I do.”

“Fred, at your level your job is more than delivering projects on your own; it’s also about sharing the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years to help others deliver on time, on budget, and within scope. Are you concerned that sharing wisdom with other project managers might mean another project manager delivers results and gets rated higher than you?”

Fred sat quietly, stunned by Janet’s insightful question.

“Fred, let me help you with this. I value outstanding delivery across the organization and place a very high value on those who transparently and candidly share their wisdom with others to help everyone be successful. There is no room for wisdom hoarders in my organization. Do you understand?”

“Um, yes,” Fred said. The two continued discussing the rest of Fred’s performance appraisal.

“Good talk, Fred. Please think about wisdom hoarding and how to work on that, OK?”

“OK.” Fred left her office and walked back to his cubicle.

“Am I really a wisdom hoarder?” He thought to himself.

To understand a wisdom hoarder, we need to look at the definition of a wisdom steward. A wisdom steward is balanced in how she seeks and shares wisdom. She humbly and genuinely seeks wisdom to help her make a sensible decision. At the same time, a wisdom steward transparently and candidly shares wisdom with others to help them make sensible decisions. The seeker and sharer roles are equally respected and practiced by the wisdom steward with the goal of embracing success for both herself and others.

Let’s look at the motivations of a wisdom hoarder. The hoarder, like the steward, genuinely and humbly seeks wisdom. The big difference comes with sharing wisdom. While the steward transparently and candidly shares wisdom, the hoarder is guarded in the wisdom he shares. The hoarder uses his wisdom as a competitive advantage over team members he views as threats. The hoarder typically shares wisdom he considers limited in value, keeping the crown jewels for himself. The hoarder doesn’t seek and share to improve himself and others, but he seeks and shares to improve only himself in order to gain a leg up on perceived competition.

Who are the hoarder’s competitors? Certainly there are business competitors in a marketplace where trade, patent, and intellectual property secrets need to be contained. By all means, wisdom needs to be guarded with those entities. The competitors I’m referring to are those on a team who should be working together to help each other be more successful. When a hoarder views team members as competitors, the hoarder’s motivations become divisive.

Are you a wisdom hoarder? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you selective about who you share wisdom with?
  • When sharing wisdom, do you suppress facts that might weaken your competitive advantage with peers?
  • Do you seek wisdom in part to help you gain a competitive advantage with peers?
  • Do you suppress discussing lessons learned that would make you appear weaker to your peers?
  • Do you share wisdom with your boss to make you look stronger than your peers?

Wisdom hoarders genuinely seek wisdom and guardedly share to protect their competitive advantage. If this is you, do some serious introspection to help you transform from wisdom hoarder to wisdom steward.

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