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Leadership Style # 2 – The Knowledge Leader – (Post 3 in a series of 10)

The problem in financial services today is not a lack of individual possession of knowledge. We are an industry of highly educated and expertly trained technical financial professionals. The problem we face is that we need to get better at using this knowledge for more than our own personal advancement and enrichment. We must improve on our ability to use the knowledge we've acquired to develop, coach and lead others. As leaders in financial services we must constantly share our knowledge, and great knowledge leaders share their knowledge for the benefit of those they lead, their organization and the industry as a whole.

Knowledge: noun – A deep knowledge of how something works, what its features are, or how to do something.

Knowledge Leadership is all about the depth and strength of a person’s (or team’s) knowledge and/or skills. Our research indicates that people who make a choice to follow a leader are very often concerned with a leader’s competence around a particular topic or task. Those who possess deep knowledge of a particular subject or effective abilities around the performance of a skill, or a series of skills, tend to become leaders in their field.

Some leaders may possess a deep knowledge of a particular subject, but may only have limited experience in the performance of the associated skills. Others excel at the actual execution of the skills. The best-of-the-best tend to possess both knowledge and skills; and as a result, they can lead through relevant discussion on the topic (e.g., teaching, coaching, speaking, or writing) or by example and actually doing the work (e.g., performing the task at a high level).

Those who seek to develop a reputation for being a high-level Knowledge Leader must invest time, and in many cases, resources to achieve this status. The Knowledge Leader has developed a detailed knowledge and/or proficiency for a specific subject and typically spends a great deal of time studying and practicing the subject they intend to master. The objective of the Knowledge Leader is to become the subject-matter expert, thought leader, or go-to person on their selected topic or skill.

Knowledge and/or skill expertise can be acquired in many different ways and from many different sources for the Knowledge Leader. For some, their expertise or proficiency originates from formal education programs; however, in many cases, leaders develop their skills and knowledge through training, implementation, repetition, refinement, and self-study. Knowledge Leaders are open to any and all sources of information around their area of interest and are focused on the mastery of all content, viewpoints, thoughts, published information, research, and even competitors in their field.

Becoming the Knowledge Leader

To become a true Knowledge Leader, you must have a sincere passion for your subject of interest and also must be willing to continue to refine your knowledge and skills on a continuous and rigorous basis over time. Knowledge and skills maintenance, updating, and continuous improvement are a must if the leader is to stay on the leading edge of their profession and, ultimately, remain relevant and influential.

One of the major mistakes made by many Knowledge Leaders is to become complacent around the updating and refreshing of their knowledge and/or skills. Unfortunately, many who have achieved the status of top performer or subject matter expert have gradually closed themselves off to new, state-of-the-industry ideas. This might be because they have become reluctant to accept new ideas from others or to have their own ideas analyzed or critiqued. Some are not open to having their thoughts or ideas modified or improved on, and may even feel a critique is beneath them.

However, the true Knowledge Leader is always open to new ideas and the advancement of their knowledge and/or skills. They actually seek out critiques and challenges to their assumptions and theories because their only loyalty is to knowledge and is connected to what is true about their topic of interest. Further, their primary concern is to discover the absolute best way to do something. This is a critical characteristic of the Knowledge Leader as it demonstrates to others that their topical passion is tied to knowledge and not their own personal status associated with their possession of that knowledge.

Knowledge Leadership Collaboration

Team members who have worked with Knowledge Leaders have suggested that Knowledge Leaders are almost always willing to share their knowledge and skills with others. Sharing their knowledge actually energizes the Knowledge Leader. One of the great attributes and additional qualities of elite Knowledge Leaders is their ability to share their knowledge with others through teaching and coaching sessions. Team members tend to be very loyal to those who educate them and help them improve their own personal skill-sets, or to those who help them further their own personal prospects for a successful future.

Teaching and mentoring are two critical components of effective leadership, and not surprisingly, they fit very well with the talents of the Knowledge Leader. Knowledge Leaders do not horde their knowledge, information, or ideas. Instead, they look for opportunities to share their knowledge and solidify the abilities of their team members and organizations. In return, their teams are better prepared for success, and are more loyal to their leader and the organization. As a result they follow the leader!

Historical Example of the Knowledge Leader – Professor Stephen Hawking

The British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (1942- ) has devoted much of his life to probing the space-time described by general relativity and the singularities where it breaks down. And he’s done most of this work while confined to a wheelchair, brought on by the progressive neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease Hawking is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post once held by Isaac Newton.

In the late 1960s, Hawking proved that if general relativity is true and the universe is expanding, a singularity must have occurred at the birth of the universe. In 1974 he first recognized a truly remarkable property of black holes, objects from which nothing was supposed to be able to escape. By taking into account quantum mechanics, he was able to show that black holes can radiate energy as particles are created in their vicinity. But perhaps his most impressive feat was writing the international bestseller, “A Brief History of Time.” The book spent more than four years on the London Sunday Times bestseller list—the longest run for any book in history. - Source: PBS

Knowledge Leader Summary Highlights

Philosophy: If I have a deep knowledge of a subject, and I share that knowledge with others, I will further my personal brand as both a subject matter expert and as a loyal and selfless leader. People are loyal to those who teach, mentor, and share.

Mistakes to Avoid: Hoarding information and not sharing the knowledge you have accumulated and/or being closed to new and fresh ideas. Positioning yourself as a “know-it-all.” This will lead to an exodus instead of a following.

Best Practices: Develop a deep knowledge of your subject and also seek to become a master of the how-to associated with it. The more you know, the more influence you will have. Do not wait for the information to be hand-delivered to you; instead seek out as much information as possible so you can continue to elevate the quality and depth or your knowledge. Finally, share your information by teaching, mentoring, and coaching. Help lift others to new levels and they will, collectively, lift you to new levels.

Questions Knowledge Leaders Commonly Ask Themselves: The following is a list of questions commonly considered by the Knowledge Leader:

  • What are my strengths as it relates to my knowledge and skills?
  • What are my weaknesses as it relates to my knowledge and skills?
  • What can I do to take my knowledge and skills to the next level?
  • Two what degree does my team recognize me as subject matter expert?
  • Who on my team can I do a better job of teaching, coaching or mentoring?
  • How can I better share my knowledge with the team, the marketplace etc.?
  • How can I position myself (or my team) with the press or other third parties as a subject matter expert?
  • Do I hoard information to protect myself, or do I discover and disseminate

Historical Example: Professor Stephen Hawking

Other Historical Examples: Theoretical Physicist Albert Einstein

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