In this day of high-tech complexity, is the old adage “knowledge is power” as relevant as it used to be? While, as Joe Badaracco observes, leaders have had to rely on the expertise of their workers since before the Industrial Revolution, “nowadays understanding what your employees do is an even more daunting challenge.”
Badaracco, an expert on ethics, cites the moral violations that have occurred in the financial sector as an example. “Some of these deals are so complicated that only a handful of people in the world really understand them,” he says.
In order to avoid disaster, Badaracco believes it is more important than ever for a leader to design good systems of reporting, hire the right people, and put together the proper multidisciplinary advisory groups.
David Thomas thinks influence in the new millennium will come more from the ability to learn than from knowledge itself. “In today’s environment,” he observes, “hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If I know something very important, the way I’m going to get power is by actually sharing it.”
Thus, the task becomes one of replenishing the sources of knowledge. “The people in power are the people who are constantly able to discover new and relevant knowledge, which is really tied to the capacity to learn,” he says.
Nitin Nohria agrees: “I don’t think people look to leaders necessarily because they are smarter or because they know something that others don’t.” His colleague John Kotter believes a leader must have a basic threshold of knowledge but does not necessarily need to be the most knowledgeable in an organization. “A leader needs enough understanding to fashion an intelligent strategy,” observes Kotter.