Patterns & Insights


Three Leadership Strategies for Knowledge Sharing

by | Apr 28, 2020 | growth, leadership

Human nature often lends itself to a temporary positive feeling when we feel smarter than the next guy. However, experience and evidence both suggest that knowledge sharing and collaboration are more likely to be at the heart of major breakthroughs to solve really hard problems, to build a truly lasting successful company, or to take a daring idea and turn it into a sustained reality. In the day to day execution of work, individuals and/or leaders can choose to share knowledge as a means to invoking power over others or rather as an effective way to empower others.  We all have an expertise in something, however, how we use that knowledge is a keen indicator of the type of leader we are today or the type of leader that we are becoming.

The world, your business, your team, and even your own family are full of opportunities where things could be improved or problems could be more effectively and efficiently solved via collaboration.  When you are generous with your knowledge and show up as an effective collaborator, you can achieve greater positive influence and lead teams to better solutions.

Sharing knowledge to empower others

When you lead through generous knowledge sharing and collaboration, teams can get to better outcomes.  They are able to achieve the 1+1 = 3 kind of math that is needed to grow and scale a business or a company or an idea.

However, too often, the results that are possible are missed due to some very common aspects of human behavior.


Three Leadership Strategies to Effectively Share Your Knowledge

1. Avoid Cognitive Bias – The Dunning Kreuger Effect.

Simply stated, the Dunning Kreuger effect was researched by two social psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, and occurs when we believe we are smarter and more capable than we really are.  And although some individuals are more prone to engage with this sense of overconfidence in their own ability to solve problems or overcome a challenge, it is true that we all fall victim to this phenomenon on occasion.

When we resort to this sort of cognitive bias, i.e. believing we know a lot about a topic even if we don’t, we are likely to make less informed decisions.  The worst offenders of this type of bias, sadly, often make these poorly informed decisions accompanied by an excess bravado of misplaced self-confidence.

What is lost?  Well, when we ignore or do not seek the viewpoints or the expertise of others in a more collaborative problem-solving engagement, particularly in an area where we may not be as smart as we believe we are, there will be poor decisions made.  Furthermore, it is likely that over time if someone constantly demonstrates this pattern, they will also significantly reduce their ability to positively influence others or even go further and alienate themselves from potential allies and collaborators in the future.

The remedy to any inclination to rely on the Dunning Kreuger effect like most elements of leadership growth,  starts with self-awareness.  There are lots of ways to overcome any Dunning-Krueger effect tendencies that may have crept into your day to day interactions.

As a leader, consider taking advantage of some of these suggestions below.  These are just some of the ways to assure you are not being one of those know-it-alls that are not so all-knowing and actually turning away potential collaborators:

  • Consider how you are humbly and proactively applying the leadership quality of learning constantly.  You likely don’t know everything, be open to continuously learning and growing.
  • Don’t just assume you know how others perceive your actions.  Even when your intentions come from a place of helping, you can still show up in ways that are not helpful to your interactions with others.
  • Graciously ask for and then tentatively listen to feedback from peers, co-workers, and team members.  Sometimes they may give you insights that surprise you, hurt your feelings, or even open your eyes to something you were completely oblivious to in your behavior.  It is always better to know these perceptions than be ignorant of them.
  • Remember that everything changes, constantly.  Change is the only constant we can rely on.  So even after you invest and develop expertise in a certain area, keep your knowledge relevant by remaining vigilant to keep challenging yourself.   Be sure you are adapting and evolving as new contexts become available to you.


2. Keep Your Ego (and Insecurities) In Check

There is a lot of wonderful material that speaks to the persistence of the power of our limbic brain in nearly everything we do.  The limbic brain, of course, is that part of the brain that while primitive, was key to our evolution as a species that survived.  The epi-center of our fight or flight responses are not as necessary as they once were to avoid being prey to a faster or bigger or stronger predator.  Today, those instincts are more likely to control how we respond to more existential fears, like fear of being accepted, the fear of being successful, or the fear of disappointing ourselves or others.

When leaders hoard their knowledge or use it as power over others it is often the result of a bruised or insecure ego.  This knowledge hoarding or manipulation through what one knows will almost surely, at least in the long term, yield sub-optimal results.   Even when the leader has adequate knowledge to make the right decisions, they have in fact done a disservice to their team by not engaging them in problem-solving for the long term success of the team and the individuals therein.

There are even ways in which knowledge sharing, with the wrong intention behind it can be problematic to our effectiveness as a leader.  There are instances when we believe we are sharing our knowledge with others, but they actually perceive our actions and words as a testament to our lack of confidence in them.  We are, by offering our knowledge in certain ways, actually making others feel as though we don’t believe they are capable or that we are diminishing their value. This particular concept came to life for me in Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. In this book, she coined the phrase “accidental diminishers.” Wisemen highlights six types of “accidental diminishers.”  One example of a diminisher (when intentions and perception are at odds) she calls “The Rescuer.” In this mode, the leader has “good intentions” to ensure that his/her people are successful through knowledge sharing and “helping” them out. However, because of what the leader says and does, the outcome is, unfortunately, quite different. Their people become highly dependent upon them. Their teams miss opportunities to grow and learn. And sometimes, if not checked, the leader can become burnt out by trying to fix everything for everybody. For more, I highly recommend that you bookmark this link to listen to this over the weekend or when you have 22 minutes. Provocative and worth the investment!

3. Keep an Open-Mind.  Avoid Closed minded-ness and the “I can do that.” Syndrome.

Another form of knowledge withholding that happens sometimes when individuals are navigating their career success and seeking more influence as a leader is when they use knowledge in a manipulative or controlling way. I have seen very high potential individuals who are poised at the transition to leadership often make a crucial mistake of using their tenure and accrued knowledge as “power”. The institutional knowledge they have is valuable, but not when it drowns out new ideas and different approaches.

I once had the opportunity to work with a pioneer in the healthcare tech space and encountered an emerging leader whose most frequent line when met with any new idea or approach was, “Well, healthcare is different. You don’t understand. Give it to me (my team), we’ll handle it.”  She unknowingly shot down new ways of thinking and problem-solving almost immediately when those ideas were introduced by anyone without “X” number of years in the healthcare industry.  She was much less likely to collaborate and share with the new folks being brought in with complementary expertise and new ideas. These individuals miss the chance to transition to leadership in a way that ultimately expands the capacity and resiliency of their organization to meet the demands of dynamic markets today. Blind spots occur in the strategic thinking of the senior team when knowledge is hoarded in cliques and new ideas and perspectives are not seen as relevant.

Making it a habit to share knowledge as a leadership strategy to empower others.

As with so many elements of personal and leadership growth, self-awareness is a good first start.  Start by observing and becoming aware of how you personally use your expertise and knowledge.  My own career has taught me that if you can learn to share your knowledge effectively and collaborate humbly and enthusiastically, you can achieve 1+1+1= 5 math.  Said differently, you can get to better solutions and positively influence a broader set of colleagues in the process – foundational to success and leadership growth.

Kathryn Robinson is the principal consultant and owner of Lumen Strategies. She works with individuals and companies seeking to grow their companies or themselves. She offers services via workshops, 1:1 or team learning, coaching and mentoring, and retainer engagements. To learn more, check out the services offered on our Lumen Strategies home page.


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