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Wisdom as a social skill

(December 4, 2023 Newsletter)

“Wisdom is a social skill practiced within a relationship or system of relationships. Wisdom is practiced when people come together to form what Parker Palmer called a ‘community of truth.’”

Since I finished How to Know a Person, David Brooks’ latest book, this quote about wisdom as a social skill has been rattling around in my mind, especially as I wrapped up a six-month group coaching experience with a wonderful group last week and begin a new program this week with a different cohort.

The reframe is powerful. We’re socialized to see wisdom as an individualistic pursuit (I suspect that this may be truer in America than in other regions of the world with more collectivist cultures) – and yet, Brooks is suggesting the opposite: that we’re wiser when we put our minds together.

What is a “community of truth” - Brooks explains the concept in more detail:

“A community of truth is created when people are genuinely interested in seeing and exploring together. They do no try to manipulate each other. They do not immediately judge, saying ‘That’s stupid’ or ‘That’s right.’ Instead, they pause to consider what the meaning of the statement is to the person who just uttered it.

When we are in a community of truth, we’re trying on each other’s perspectives. We’re taking journeys into each other’s minds. It gets you out of the egotistical mindset – I am normal, what I see is objective, everyone else is odd – and instead gives you the opportunity to take a journey with another person’s eyes.”

What about at work? We want our companies run by wiser executive and management teams, don’t we? And yet it feels so antithetical to how so many places are run. So let’s ask ourselves, “How can we spread this concept to more leadership teams?”

Why it’s worth the effort: 

  • Companies and organizations run by communities of truth mean that leaders are more concerned with getting it right than being right (I believe I’m channeling both Steve Jobs and Brené Brown here). Leaders are more likely to support the most promising solutions, regardless of the originator of the idea.

  • Companies would reward collaboration and cooperation, leading to longer-term benefits rather than short-term wins.

  • Companies would truly be learning organizations, those that value and champion new perspectives instead of doing things as they’ve always been done.

The drawbacks: So why aren’t all exec teams already acting like communities of truth?

  • We’d have to override our natural instincts for ego and competition.

  • It’s a new skillset and mindset to be taught, which requires effort, perseverance, and a strong message from the top that it’s a worthy endeavor.

  • Decisions may take a bit longer, at first (though fewer poor decisions would likely be made, saving time in the long run).  

Taking first steps: The good news is you can start adopting a new perspective and communication style, as a team, right away.

  • Share this post with your colleagues and set time in your next team meeting to discuss to what extent you’ve already developed collective wisdom and what’s preventing you from acting more as a community of truth.

  • Try out a peer coaching protocol, like the one I described in my previous post. Collect feedback and learn from the experience, so you can continuous improve as you get comfortable with a new way of communicating.

  • Get in the habit of asking questions before giving answers and encourage others to do the same. Not sure what to ask? You can use my Question Bank as a resource (follow the LinkedIn page to see new posts in real time). And keep this quote from Naguib Mahfouz close on hand, as a reminder: “You can tell whether a [person] is clever by [their] answers. You can tell whether a [person] is wise by [their] questions.”


The Coaching Corner

Keep your eye on the time

As a coach-manager, one of your responsibilities is to keep conversations moving along at an appropriate pace. That means:

  1. Making sure that agendas and expectations are clearly set, including which items need more time than others for discussion or planning.

  2. Getting to the heart of the matter as quickly as possible.

  3. Giving a heads up as the time is progressing so there’s ample time for wrapping up each section.

  4. Transitioning to the next topic (or end of the conversation) kindly and firmly.



It's December, which means it's time for some year-end reflections and thinking ahead. I've been using YearCompass for the last few years and it's become a staple in my annual learning and planning process.

Brene Brown on What Vulnerability Isn’t - I love that Adam Grant replayed the first ever episode of his podcast “WorkLife” last week, which felt just as fresh and inspiring as it was a few years ago. This episode is a must for understanding what is an isn’t appropriate in terms of vulnerability at work.


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