Edie Weiner: I actually think that the women who are the most successful in rising to executive ranks and then ultimately being able to populate boards are women who know how to be wise. And there’s a big difference between being smart and being wise, and also being intelligent, frankly.
Smart is the ability to learn a lot of things and then repeat them back at some future time as if everything was around a model or a formula. Nobody’s going to pay for smart in the future because the smarter the doctor, the smarter the lawyer, the smarter the engineer, the smarter the financier, that’s all going onto software.
So we move up the ladder and we say that what we really value and what will rise to the top is intelligence. And what is that? That’s the ability to figure things out that you’ve never learned before. So how do you get from A to D when there is no B and nobody can agree on C? That’s intelligence, and that’s valued a lot. And so intelligence, male or female, is something that is valued in a lot of discussions.
But in the end, how you get to the very top frequently rests on wisdom. And wisdom is not a function of being smart or intelligent. Sometimes it’s not linked to the two. There are very intelligent people who are not wise at all, and there are a lot of wise people who are just not intelligent enough to sit at that board table.
So you need to have intelligence, but you need to have wisdom, and wisdom is situational. Wisdom is knowing what to say to whom, when, and under what circumstances, and for what purpose. And I will tell you that the hardest thing that comes to women–and I suffered from this so much in my career–is that we’re constantly strategically thinking about everything, and all the stakeholders, and what this is going to mean, and how to get this better for the long term. So the intelligence is not in question. What’s in question is how do we reign ourselves in from asking all of this, or demanding all of this, or wanting all of this. And so we’re constantly asking, is this the hill I want to die on? Is this the stand I want to take? . . . because five minutes from now there may be another stand I want to take, and a half hour from now there may be another stand on another issue I want to take.
And it’s very weary to constantly ask yourself, is this the hill I want to die on? And you have to ask yourself that question. Otherwise you just become the person who keeps raising the issue again and again. “Oh well, okay, here comes Edie again, she’s now concerned about children in the Third World. . . . Okay, here comes Edie again, she’s now concerned about whether we’re polluting that strip of land. . . . Okay, well here comes Edie again, she’s worried that we’re basically, you know, throwing people out of work as we do this. . . . Okay, here’s Edie again. . . . “ And then your power is erased because when you interject that too much, you lose your whole power. So wisdom is really knowing exactly what hills you’re going to die on and how to hold that in. And I have to tell you, it takes a toll.
I really do respect the women who run for public office because it is so personally assaulting on them. How they don’t go home every night and want to shoot themselves because there’s so much negative feedback; they have to be so hardened. And I really respect women who rise to the top of corporate ranks because they have to deal with so much that is negative to get there, they have to be hardened. And the same thing is true in the board room.
Being wise comes with hardening, judgment, experience, and ultimately, ultimately, the independence of finally stepping out into the sunlight and saying, “I know I can’t do it all. I will do some, and if that some gets me in trouble, so be it. I can walk away.”