Thursday, October 20, 2016

Leading with microknowledge



Robert Gates, former U.S. Defense Secretary, wrote in his memoirs that a strong and effective leader in a big and complex organization needs to put the time and energy into acquiring "microknowledge" but refrain from "micromanagement.

An interesting thought, to be sure. Let the emphasis lie on "... put in the time and energy... " This stuff is not free. Didn't Gladwell say: 10,000 hours to be an expert? Well, microknowledge is not 10,000 hours worth; indeed: most Defense secretaries don't even serve 10,000 hours.

On the other hand: "Microknowledge"? What's that?

  • Think of it as the knowledge you would need if you were to micromanage -- thus, it's the knowledge you use to assert leverage, influence, and legitimacy over those you do lead.

In other words, you need to understand the traffic while you resist the impulse to direct the traffic -- others can do that for you. (Think of the scene from the movie "Patton" when the General himself is standing in an intersection of tangled tank traffic directing their movements... you probably don't want to do that, even though with microknowledge you might be successful)

  • And, it's the knowledge you use to make decisions about delegation (this individual can likely to "this" but would not be good at "that"...) and assess performance.

But, of course, there's a dark side: microknowledge also what feeds the old saw:

"He/she knows enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be effective"

If this said about you, then you've crossed the line from legitimacy and leverage to nuisance and nemesis... Back off!


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