Knowledge workers require knowledge managers

Sitting in business class today I am struck by the idea of knowledge workers and how the environments in business have changed. The old model of business – the manager who tells his employees what to do – doesn’t work when you hire people for their knowledge, which the manager may not have. An entire class of young minds have been taught that managers of knowledge workers become obsolete.

I would propose an alternative – the knowledge worker requires a knowledge manager. What is a knowledge manager? It certainly isn’t the traditional manufacturing style manager which seems to come out of business classes. It doesn’t seem like the type of thing which we commonly train people to be.

The knowledge manager is someone with a new set of skills. A team builder who recognizes that he is more of a coach than a manager. Someone with a beginner’s mind who will question often, unconcerned with being seen as the one who knows everything. He brings his own set of skills to the team, and often those skills are focused on how to manage relationships with the larger organization outside of his team. The humble diplomat, able to represent his team and help them navigate the social network within the organization.

In my experience, the knowledge manager is someone we don’t see very often, even in organizations made up entirely of knowledge workers. For some reason, managers of these groups are often picked from traditional style managers – people who will be able to “keep them in line”. Rather than championing the ideas of these people – hired for their ideas – these managers temper things and focus on keeping control.

Sitting in a room with 20 other people being trained to be future managers in the workplace, I wish that we were being taught to be the champions that these new teams need. People skilled in building teams, focused more on leadership than control, and the evolving role of the manager in an increasingly self-organized workplace. It’s time to stop embracing the management model of the 1970s, and jump into the new model of empowered employees who need skill-based leaders who can help them achieve success.

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