Spa Speakers

Wisdom vs. Knowledge: why you should engage with the Competent Leadership Program

What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Have a think for a moment before reading on.

Had a think? Excellent!

Now, let me share what I’ve concluded.

Knowledge is when you know something intellectually. For example, by reading a fact from a book you acquire knowledge.

But wisdom is more than simply knowing something.

What if you acquire knowledge and then practically apply that knowledge? For example, if you read a book, apply the knowledge and develop a skill?

Better. But wisdom is more than acquiring a skill. At this stage, you have learned how to uncritically and unthinkingly apply someone else’s knowledge in the real world. But how good or valuable are those skills for your specific set of needs? Being able to practically apply intellectual knowledge is, for the most part, better than simply knowing something, but if what you are applying is out-of-date, not fit for your purposes, wrong, then is that of any use to anyone? If we are simply taking instruction, then we have not yet reached wisdom.

So what is wisdom?

Personal definition: wisdom is knowing something thoroughly in your bones.

That’s quite a compressed definition, so let me take you through a concrete example to help explain.

Case Study: managing nerves when giving a speech

Imagine you have a speech to give and the idea scares your pants off. You read a book, “How to be courageous: 5 tips to maintain composure under pressure.” You revise and remember it cover-to-cover.  You have acquired knowledge.

The moment of truth arrives. You give your speech and apply those principles. It went well. You have successfully acquired the practical skill of delivering your speech without becoming overwhelmed with anxiety. Great!

But what happens when you thrown into an entirely different, more stressful situation? Will the part of your brain that retains those 5 tips get drowned out in the noise of terrified emotion? What if the tips work in one situation but not another? What if those tips work for one crowd size but not another? What if those tips work for one type of speech (say a prepared speech) but not another (say, where you are leading a meeting as facilitator)?

We don’t learn the limits of the knowledge we have acquired until we try again and again to apply such principles in the real world in a variety of situations. Robust, unshakeable “knowingness” does not become rooted in our being until we practice using that knowledge many times over in ever more challenging situations. In short, we do not understand the limits of the knowledge we have acquired until we have fully road-tested it for ourselves.

Wisdom then: when your knowledge is deeply internalised in your being, you no longer apply your learned principles robotically, but instead you instinctively modify how you tackle circumstances according to context, and is based on your own innate, battle-tested judgement, then you have acheived a level of expertise that approaches the boundaries of wisdom.

But how do you acquire wisdom in something like public speaking when each time you go up to speak you are so very vulnerable to the judgement and disapproval of others? How do you get that kind of rich and varied experience without the risk of being embarrassed and criticised when you fail?

Enter, Toastmasters!

The recipe for wisdom: repeated, regular and varied experience with plenty of feedback.

At Spa Speakers, and at Toastmasters clubs in general, the emphasis is on learning by doing. Less theory. More practice.

First, you are given instructions (knowledge) on how to do a specific role at a meeting, and this often involves getting up in front of an audience to present. Next, you actually apply that knowledge by doing that role. You thus begin the journey towards acquiring a practical skill. So far, so good.

But when you do a variety meeting roles repeatedly and regularly; when you reflect on how you did and how you can improve; when you get kind, supportive and insightful feedback and advice from other members of the club (and especially your mentor) on how you can improve, and then you act on that input, you go far beyond acquiring basic skills. You are on the path to wisdom in an environment where failure is not a scary or embarrassing thing, but an opportunity to do better next time.

That’s what Spa Speakers, Toastmasters, and in particular the Competent Leadership Program is about.

The Competent Leader Program sets you up to achieve wisdom as a leader and as a versatile speaker.

How can the Competent Leadership Program help me become wise?

The Competent Leadership Program is 50% of the educational program at Toastmasters. It challenges members to complete a variety of projects aimed at building skills in time management, facilitation, listening, mentoring, team building, motivating, organising. Many of the projects required to achieve the award involve performing the various roles at regular meetings, but also more involved roles outside of those meetings. If you are a member, you should have a copy of the Competent Leadership manual. To see what is required to complete the award, see page 64 for the complete list of projects.

By fully and actively participating in the program, there are 3 major benefits you will gain. I call them the 3 Cs. And then there are 3 bonus benefits also. Let’s go through them in turn.

The 3 Cs

1. Continuous Feedback
Getting regular, structured feedback will reveal where you can improve. The way projects are earned in the Competent Leadership program is not simply to do an assigned role, but to have that role evaluated according to specific criteria aimed at focussing your attention on core leadership and communication skills. To win the award, you must identify a member of the club to take your manual and have them evaluate how you did. Yes, you could do the roles without getting feedback in your manual, but as Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” You need feedback to help you do things different to improve; the Competent Leader Program enforces that discipline. Your mentor is an essential source of feedback too. Members are encouraged to cultivate strong, supportive and purposeful relationships with their mentor so they can get the most out of the program.

Why do you need feedback? Because “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” – unknown. Possibly Einstein!

2. Completeness
The Competent Leadership program is a guide to ensure you cover all the essential leadership skills. Mentoring, giving feedback, facilitation, delegation, organising events, critical thinking, listening are all covered. Unlike most management courses, you aren’t subject to an avalanche of theory that you forget by the time you get a chance to apply it. Instead you are given only the essential knowledge required to begin the process of acquiring the skills of leadership. The club offers members the opportunity to use, practice and develop expertise in the use of that knowledge right away and repeatedly over an extended period of time. Through practice, you acquire skill, and through the acquisition of the complete skill set of a leader, you head towards wisdom.

3. Communicating according to context correctly
There is more to public speaking than giving a prepared speech, or giving an unrehearsed, freeform speech like a TableTopic. Question: how does the way someone with the Timekeeper role convey information compared to a Grammarian or Evaluator or Toastmaster? Are the demands on the presenter to be punchy and to the point? To add humour? To be comprehensive? To report or to analyse? To be firm or to be kind? To have a friendly informal tone or a professional one? Different speaking situations demand different language, different tone, different ways of organising information. Doing a variety of roles will help you expand your speaking skills so you are ready to speak in front of any audience, no matter what the speaking situation. You will get better because you will always get feedback!

3 Bonus Benefits

You could of course learn these skills in the workplace or some other learning environment; however, learning them at Spa Speakers is a bit different.  Here are 3 more advantages of the following the program at a Toastmasters club.

When you complete all the projects from the Competent Leadership program, you are awarded with a certificate and right to add the letters CL after your name. Nice!

Engagement with all club members
To get your role evaluated for the award, you will have to ask a fellow member, perhaps someone you don’t know so well, to fill in your manual. The Competent Leadership Program thereby encourages members to reach out to every other member within the club and make new connections. At Spa we want a club where everyone supports everyone else. By having everyone reach out to everyone else, we build a strong, supportive and inclusive community. That strong fabric of community at Spa, I think, is the greatest thing about the club.

A safe environment
At Spa Speakers, you will learn in an environment of people that care about you, and where mistakes and learning are not only tolerated but celebrated. We will give you a chance to try things you might not have dared. Spa Speakers is a safe, learn and help-learn environment.

Sounds good? Then I hope the following question is foremost on your mind…

How to fully engage with the Competent Leadership Program?


  1.  The Vice President of Education will proactively assign you meeting roles
  2. Your mentor and, to a lesser extent, the committee will encourage you to Bring Your Manuals (BYM) to every meeting to give to another member before the meeting begins for completion.
  3. Once completed, email the committee with the following info: the role you did, the project you wish to assign the role to, and the member who evaluated you.
  4. Beyond regular meeting roles, the committee will offer opportunities to take on advanced projects that not only contribute to your award, but build your leadership skills and practically supports making Spa Speakers even better!


So after all that, I have just 2 takeaways. If you want to engage with the Competent Leadership Program, do these two things and we are ready to roll!

  1. Bring your Competent Leader manual to every meeting to get your meeting role evaluated.
  2. Let the committee know after you have completed a role via email so it can be logged as a credit towards your Competent Leadership award.

Hope that was useful. Any feedback or questions, get in touch with me at the next meeting or via email!


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