Are You a Wisdom Steward?

by Lonnie Pacelli

Brent was having a routine one-on-one with his boss Gail in her office. Over the six months since joining her organization, Brent noticed something different about Gail compared to his past bosses.

“Gail, can I ask you a question?” Brent asked.


“Certainly.”

“When you share your wisdom with others you are so transparent, even willing to admit when you were wrong about something. That’s very different from other bosses I’ve had. How did you get there?”

“Good question,” she said. “I learned a long time ago that wisdom is extremely valuable. Seeking and sharing it can make the difference between success and failure. Because I deeply care about not only my success but the success of others, I decided I needed to be willing to not just seek wisdom from others but candidly share my wisdom with others to improve their chances of success. I adopted what I call a wisdom steward mindset.”

“Wisdom steward?” he asked.

“Yes,” Gail said just as her phone beeped. She looked at the message. “Darn, I need to prep something for the board meeting in an hour. Can we continue the wisdom steward discussion at our one-on-one next week?”

“Sure,” Brent said.

“OK, see you later then.”

Brent got up and went back to his cubicle. “A wisdom steward?” he thought to himself as he sat in his chair.

So, what is a wisdom steward? To understand the concept you first have to understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is facts and information learned through a number of sources. You can gain knowledge from a book, a discussion, the news, or personal experience. Wisdom is what you do with that knowledge. You can’t have wisdom without knowledge, but you can certainly have knowledge without wisdom.

Let’s look at touching a hot stove as an example. If you touch a hot stove, you gain the knowledge that it is hot and touching it will burn your hand. Wisdom is making a sensible decision based on the knowledge that the stove burns. Not touching the stove a second time means you’re applying wisdom to knowledge. If you do touch the stove and get burned again, you didn’t apply wisdom to the knowledge you had. So, knowledge is knowing the stove is hot; wisdom is deciding to not touch it.

Next let’s talk about how wisdom is acquired. Wisdom can be gained through first-hand experience or guided experience. First-hand experience is the stove example. Guided experience is gained through learning from others. Bill told me he touched the hot stove and burned his hand, so I won’t touch the hot stove. You gained wisdom not because you did something first-hand; you learned from someone else’s experience. In both cases you made a wise choice not to touch the stove, but in one you learned on your own and the other you learned from someone else.

Now let’s dig into how this relates to wisdom stewardship. For guided wisdom to work there must be two engaged parties. The first is the wisdom seeker. A wisdom seeker is humble and genuinely looks to gain wisdom from others to help him or her make a sensible decision. The second is the wisdom sharer. A wisdom sharer is transparent and candidly offers wisdom gained either first-hand or learned from others to help the seeker make a sensible decision. A wisdom steward is someone who values both genuinely seeking and transparently sharing wisdom.

Are you a wisdom steward? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
  • When faced with a problem, do you genuinely and humbly seek out those who possess the wisdom to help you through the problem?
  • When you seek wisdom, do you seek with the intent to learn from others, or to prove others wrong?
  • Do you make yourself approachable to others who wish to learn from your wisdom?
  • When someone wants to learn from your wisdom, are you transparent and candid in your sharing, even if it means admitting mistakes?
  • Do you care about embracing mutual success, or are you in it for yourself?
  • Do you view wisdom as something that is valuable and deserves to be treated with care and respect?

About the author

Want to see what a wisdom steward, boaster, poser, hoarder, hesitator and pontificator look like? Check out the book Behind Gold Doors-Five Easy Steps to Become a Wisdom Steward

Lonnie Pacelli is an accomplished author and autism advocate with over 30 years experience in leadership and project management at Accenture, Microsoft, and Consetta Group. See books, articles, keynotes, and self-study seminars at http://www.lonniepacelli.com