Why the Best Leaders Never Do This 1 Thing

Get ready to eat some humble pie.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 08 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Shortly before legendary management guru Peter Drucker's death in 2005, he made this bold declaration: Increasing the productivity of knowledge workers was "the most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century."

What is a "knowledge worker?" Drucker simply defined it this way:

Knowledge Workers are people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does.

We've reached an era where the ever-increasing presence of knowledge workers, especially technologically-savvy Millennials, are rendering top-down leadership structures virtually obsolete. This is a good thing.

Today's leaders are a different breed. This leads me to answer the question in the headline--the 1 thing great leaders never do?

Assume they know more than the very people they lead.

Twenty-first century leaders are servant-leaders who recognize the power of shared status and shared decision-making. They don't pretend to be "the expert." They leverage the skills and education of their knowledge workers on the front lines, and enable them to contribute great ideas that lead to great customer experience.

Since today's leaders may not be the experts, they still play a critical role in helping their tribe achieve their goals. Here's how they lead today's highly skilled knowledge workers.


1. They lead by coaching and facilitating

The "Ask vs. Tell" approach is perfectly suited to leaders in the knowledge economy. They don't tell their knowledge workers what to do, but rather ask powerful questions that allows them to create their own solutions. This thought-process works well with smart workers who prefer to own up the solutions to their own problems. The role of the leader is about empowerment--increasing their tribe's development and facilitating the learning process through a coaching approach.


2. They lead by developing their workers for the future

With more global competition, today's leaders look ahead to the future to help their workers acquire new skills that will keep their skills sharp and relevant, while helping the business to be successful tomorrow.


3. They allow the freedom for workers to build professional networks

Knowledge workers become loyal workers when given the freedom to form or pursue strong networks both inside and outside the organization. Professional networks add value as workers expand knowledge and bring back to the organization new skills for competitive advantage.


4. They lead by actively involving others

Great leaders recognize that leadership is multi-directional. While it can come from the top down at critical times, the best scenario is allowing it to travel from peer to peer or from the bottom up, where the collective wisdom of knowledge workers help solve real issues on the front lines.


5. They lead by demonstrating their own competence

Lastly, lets quickly erase any assumptions that leaders of knowledge workers are mere doormats. On the contrary, they exercise great influence by holding their own--demonstrating keen knowledge, insight, and expertise in both leadership and industry or technology--specific business acumen. In the leadership sense, they will carry the vision forward, communicate the vision, and actively engage their tribe in pursuing the vision. This take competence and builds confidence in your tribe. And their confidence in you, the leader, will ultimately deliver excellence.