The ever-increasing presence of knowledge workers (people who know more about what they are doing than their boss does) presents challenges to modern-day leaders that their counterparts in years gone by were not called to address. The main challenge is: "How do you help your team members achieve their goals when you, as a leader, are not an expert on the topic?"
One thing great leaders don't do is pretend to be an expert! This can lead to disaster in so many ways. Below is just one example:
When someone comes to you with an idea, and rather than say good idea, you say, "Why don't you add this?" or "Why don't you do that?" you take ownership of the idea. Your input makes it your idea and it is no longer their idea.
So, given you follow this suggestion and do not pretend to be an expert, how do you lead today's highly skilled professionals who so often know more about their jobs than you do? The simple answer is that it takes special skills — and not the ones that you may think.You have to look at leadership through the wants and needs of the worker as opposed to the skills of the leader. Here are six quick tips for effectively managing knowledge workers.
1. Demonstrate passion
In days past, working 40 hours per week and taking 4-5 weeks of vacation meant that people often focused less on loving what they do. Today many professionals work long hours and it's crucial than ever that they love their work. Those who lead by example and demonstrate passion for what they do make it much easier for their followers to demonstrate the same passion.
2. Strengthen abilities
With less job security and more global competition, it's critical that people update and refine their skills continuously. Leaders need to look beyond skills needed today and help their workers learn skills they will need tomorrow. Leaders also recognize that their technical or functional skills may be obsolete - and that may well not be a technically competent as their direct reports.
3. Appreciate time
People have less time today, which means the value of that time has increased. Leaders who waste their workers' time are not looked upon favorably. Leaders will be far more successful if they protect people from things that neither encourage their passions nor enhance their abilities.
4. Build networks
Today, job security comes from having ability, passion, and a great network. Leaders who enable people to form strong networks both inside and outside the company will gain a huge competitive advantage along with the loyalty of their workers. These professional networks allow people to expand their knowledge and bring it back to the organization.
5. Support growth
The best knowledge workers are working for more than money. They want to make a contribution and to grow in their fields. Leaders who ask their people, "What can our company do to help you grow and achieve your goals?" will find it comes back tenfold.
6. Expand happiness and meaning
No one wants to work at a meaningless job that makes them unhappy. Leaders must show their workers how the organization can help them make a contribution to the larger world and feel rewarded for doing something about which they are passionate.
Managing knowledge workers is a challenging and rewarding job. Leaders who do so must look beyond the work and think about the person who does the work if they are to be successful. By appreciating and encouraging the dedication, time, and experience of their workers, leaders help shape not only the futures of the professionals they lead but also the future of their organizations.