Get Out of Your Own Way: Coaching and Self-Development Using SOPPHIA – The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom

By Dr. Bernard Brookes

The concept of wisdom is as old as human civilization. It implies that the greatest challenge that each of us faces is ourselves. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom, and in mythology was personified as a goddess. Wisdom was also personified as a woman in the Judeo-Christian tradition in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is a stream that flows through every culture. It reconciles our innermost thoughts and strivings with the social and physical realities in which we live. Wisdom is a concept of which every person has an intuitive grasp, but which almost everyone has difficulty explaining clearly and concisely.

Meanwhile, through the social sciences, we have identified behaviors that seem to consistently lead to success, especially in businesses and other organizations. We call these behaviors competencies. Competencies have now proliferated to such a bewildering extent that the simple yet profound concept of wisdom again seems reassuringly appealing. The SOPPHIA model organizes the plethora of competencies into 7 Dimensions of Wisdom, and provides a framework that facilitates coaching and self-development efforts.  

What the acronym SOPPHIA represents

Each letter in the acronym SOPPHIA stand for one of the 7 Dimensions of Wisdom. Here are the seven with a brief description of each:

Self: competencies related to self-awareness and self-management

Others: competencies for understanding others and managing relationships

Purpose: competencies related to commitment to a vision of excellence and to producing results

Presence and management of time: the ability to be effectively present and to manage time

Health: competencies related to healthy practices, such as work/life balance

Innovation: the ability to use creativity to produce value and wealth    

Assurance beyond reason (faith): the ability to endure and persevere when it may seem reasonable to give up

Wisdom begins with Self

The concept of emotional intelligence has been demonstrated to explain more of the success of leaders than mental intelligence. The most well established model is the one by Daniel Goleman, which includes both self-awareness and self-management. To grow in wisdom requires both awareness on one’s emotions and self-discipline.

Wisdom includes relating effectively with Others

The second part of Goleman’s emotional intelligence concept is how one relates to others. This also has two components: understanding other people’s feelings and motivations, and being able to effectively manage relationships. One can therefore say that emotional intelligence makes up two of the seven dimensions of wisdom.

Wisdom involves Purpose

Positive Psychology has demonstrated scientifically that happiness derives more from engagement in purposeful activity and being of service to others, than from pleasure in and of itself. Pleasure is the icing on the cake, rather than being the substance of happiness. Purpose involves the commitment and motivation to produce excellence, and in its highest form excellence for the benefit of others, or something larger than oneself. If wisdom begins with self-reflection, then it is purpose that move self-reflection beyond self-absorption to give a life authentic meaning and direction.

Wisdom requires being Present

Our problem with time is not solved by what we usually call time management, but by the discipline of being present. When we are present, our minds and spirits are ordered according to our purpose. Therefore, even though a hundred things press upon us with urgency, we are at peace in that storm, and our priorities are clear.

Time management tools are helpful: schedules, checklists, reminders and priority rankings. But using these mechanical aids is the easy part. The challenge is to be present and to be ordered in mind, spirit and purpose. When we are present, we realize that there is nothing that we have to accomplish except to get out of our own way. When we let go of the debris of emotional pushes and pulls (regret, longing, anxiety, desperation), our actions emerge from the positive energy of the life force that is in us.

The primary tool for becoming present that we have developed over the course of human history is meditation or contemplation. There are forms of it in every culture, but the common features that have been revealed by research are to focus on breathing, to repeat word(s) or other sound(s) that are simple and repetitive, and to ignore and let go of thoughts and emotions that arise. It may involve sitting still silently, chanting, using prayer beads, or dancing among other forms. This activity induces a physiological relaxation response that affects both our bodies and our brain waves. This response is identical regardless of the content (religious or otherwise) of the sound or phrase on which we are concentrating. The content should be consistent with the values and beliefs of the individual.

Wisdom supports Health and balance

Human beings are not so different from plants in terms of needing a balance of inputs to support optimum development. Our inputs however, are both material and non-material. Health begins with awareness of both our material and non-material needs and developing a lifestyle built around healthy behaviors.

Wisdom makes Innovation out of creativity

Innovation begins with creativity and continues with stewardship, the optimal management of resources. Creativity becomes innovation when it is connected with people’s needs, and with the institutional machinery to produce goods or services that meet those needs; and also to generate value and wealth. Stewardship requires innovation to maintain and increase wealth or resources. Without innovation, resources are depleted. Good stewardship requires making generally profitable decisions about investment of resources into potential innovations. Every organization and person does this; for better or worse.

Wisdom provides Assurance beyond reason

Assurance or faith is the ability to remain resilient and to endure in the face of challenges; when it might seem reasonable to give up. This involves being able to enter into a meditative or prayerful state and to induce the relaxation response under situations of great stress. This has been shown scientifically to increase a person’s chances of avoiding certain illnesses or of recovering more successfully from them, for example.

Coaching and Self-development Using SOPPHIA

Coaching can be done within an organization, as a program for improvement of leadership and other competencies; using individual or group coaching formats, and either face-to-face or virtually (telephone or web meeting). Coaching can also be done as an individual’s initiative for self-improvement. Regardless of these variations, the first step is assessment. If you don’t know where you are and your destination, you are unlikely to get there.

Within an organization, assessments can be done using whatever tools have been selected for performance management and development: such as a 360 degree assessment. An individual acting on his/her own initiative can use good-quality free online assessments such are from www. In either case, it is important to build on strengths rather than focusing on fixing weaknesses. Ask “What am I good at and what do I love to do?” Organizations should also be interested in how their employees answer this question, because that is the key to getting them engaged and motivated. And since employee engagement is directly related to customer satisfaction and profits, this fits with business strategy.

Out of the assessment should come clarification of one’s purpose (and organizational goals) and the beginnings of a plan for leveraging one’s strengths to create sustainable and successful performance; and a successful life at work as well as in the personal sphere. This initial sense of direction is what moves the coaching process forward.

Whether in group or individual format, it is essential that ground rules for the sessions be agreed upon, as well as expectations for practice activities between sessions; and the expected number of sessions, and their frequency. Behavioral change only occurs and becomes habitual with practice. It is also important to have the participant(s) describe at the end of each session, what worked well and what can be improved. This installs a continuous improvement mechanism into the coaching process.

Within the coaching sessions, the coach using uses SOPPHIA (The 7 Dimensions of wisdom) to help the participant to map the competencies and skills needed for personal and business success; aligning those with both personal and work priorities. In coaching sessions, the coach models effective ways of encouraging reflection and providing feedback. In a group coaching format, participants benefit additionally by the practice they get in coaching their peers.

After the agreed upon coaching sessions are completed, there should be an assessment of their impact. Within a business context, one can examine post-coaching customer satisfaction and employee engagement scores compare to pre-coaching baselines. For individually initiated coaching, the participant can again take the online assessments and compare where she/he is now compared to at the beginning. This can be done in the last session, and the participant(s) can leave with closure, and some ideas on the next steps they could take on their own to sustain behavioral change.

Fulfillment is a life-long pursuit for the individual, as is excellent performance for the organization. Both involve continuing new levels of growth and development and overcoming challenges. Competency-based coaching using SOPPHIA (The 7 Dimensions of Wisdom) provides a structure, tool, and a personal guide to help an individual or an organization on the path toward success.

Dr. Bernard Brookes is a Principal Consultant with SOPPHIA Leadership Development ( He was formerly a Professor and Leadership Coach in the Graduate School of Management & Technology at University of Maryland, University College. He can be reached by email at: