In his Ted Talk on leadership, Jim Whitehurst, former executive at Delta, jokes about being a recovering know-it-all CEO and explores what happens when all traditional leadership mentalities disappear. We were recently discussing this video in a meeting of our business staff and a question arose: "As a leader, shouldn't you be making more decisions because you have more knowledge?" Beautiful question. It allowed for a rich conversation about why knowledge is key in a leadership role and how knowledge can also limit a leader's ability to make a meaningful contribution.
There is a reason the common saying is "Knowledge is power" and not "Information is power," and that is because you have to work for knowledge. Information exists at the abstract level in the world regardless of what people do with it. It becomes knowledge once it is learned and applied in a meaningful way. Knowledge is power, but what you do with it determines whether it will be short lived and limit your contribution, or live beyond your life and expand your contribution.
How to tell if your knowledge is limiting your contribution
There is nothing wrong with using your knowledge to work toward your goals and check things off your to-do list. Your knowledge got you to where you are now. And still that knowledge is only serving you in this lifetime. More is possible for others and for the world if you share your knowledge. The question I want you to ask is: Are you only using your knowledge for your benefit and to achieve your goals, or are you expanding your knowledge through others so that it can live on and serve the world after you are gone?
One of your jobs as a leader is to help others become as good as you, if not better than you are. You can use your knowledge as power to accomplish your own work, or use it as power to mentor and coach other people so that they become powerful in their own ways. If you use your knowledge as power to accomplish your own work, this will eventually limit you, all your employees, and your company.
Take a look at the following scenarios and see if you are acting as a leader who is limited by their knowledge, or a leader who is truly unbound and up to big things:
Now you may be wondering why you should care if you are limited? And the answer to that depends on what you are up to in your life. What is your role? If you are content with where your life is and what you have, then continue to use your knowledge to accomplish your own goals. However, if you are up to bigger things - if you are committed to seeing that the world becomes more powerful because of your knowledge long after you are gone - then you need to focus on coaching and developing others to be as good as, and hopefully better than you. That is the choice you must make.
How to use your knowledge to expand your contribution
Whenever a task, email, or project comes to your attention, ask yourself one question: Am I the only one who should be doing this, or is there someone who has the capability, or the potential for capability, that I could help grow?
Most of the time, there is someone else you can coach and mentor to complete the task. Then you simply have a conversation with that person and bring them on the journey of learning. Next time a similar task, email, or project crosses your desk, you can send it to them without even thinking.
Doing this will take extra time - time to have the conversation, teach, and approve - but the short-term time investment will pay off in the long term as those around you grow and learn to take on more of your tasks and free you up to acquire and develop new knowledge and therefore expand your circle of influence.
Lastly, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Without this, others can start to feel used. Recognizing others for their success in both learning and stepping into knowledge will inspire them to do more and create a space for future growth and contributions.
But what if...?
Sometimes there are scenarios that require your knowledge, or rather the presence of your knowledge. In those situations, it is important to understand why it requires your knowledge. For example, our company had a deal that couldn't be closed because the client needed to be assured of support from the executive team.
The client had an assumption about what our sales team knew and could commit compared to what I knew and could commit as a CEO. But even in those moments and with those assumptions, by being open with the client about the knowledge I was constantly sharing with my team with intention to empower them so that they don't need me in the long-run, I was able to bring my team with me. In doing so, we showed the clients that my team - my whole company - is interested and capable of making the same decisions that I could make,
If I had just stepped in and talked to the client alone, that would have set a precedent that I am the only one who can make big moves for the lifetime of the contract. That would require time and energy to be spent on that particular client when it could be used to continue to innovate and create new meaningful things.
It is your responsibility as a leader, whether a CEO, a division head, or a manager, to identify the ways that your use of knowledge is limiting yourself and others. From there, you need to put in the effort to share your knowledge with your team and bring them along with you.
You go from achieving your own dreams to building a team that is achieving their dreams individually and collectively and making a real impact on this planet.
So the real question I ask is, do you have the desire, commitment and self-security to see the world flourish way after you're gone? Or do you want it to be only flourish while you're here. The choice is truly yours!