Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Can Charismatic Leaders Handle the Challenges of Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is the collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination, and utilization of knowledge (Newman, 1991).  In a global economy, the most important skill set necessary for a company to become or remain cutting edge is its ability to gather internal and external knowledge and create value that can be imparted to customers and clients. The economic transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age denoted the importance of individuals becoming specialists in areas that are in demand.  In fact, the notion of quantifying results of productivity in the Industrial Age has transformed in the Information Age.  Drucker (Flaherty, 1999) suggested that the measurements necessary for determining productivity during the Information Age requires judgment by the knowledge worker which is more qualitative than quantitative.  This measuring rod by the knowledge worker is the evolution of specialized knowledge.   Drucker postulated that during the Industrial Age, manual workers were at the command and direction of machines. Contrarily, in the Information Age, machines are at the behest and direction of knowledge workers. What this means for managers is that knowledge workers are at a premium and can leverage more power. Individuals who can create productivity and profitability based on specific knowledge for companies have control unparalleled from any period in the past. Consequently, since power has shifted to knowledge workers, it takes a different type of leadership for organizational development as well as knowledge worker acquisition and maintenance. Often, the charismatic leadership model is best suited during times of uncertainty as well as a driver for continuous innovation.

 There are a few traits that make charismatic leaders uniquely qualified for knowledge management.
1 1.    Charismatic leaders are known for being visionaries.  Actually, charismatic leaders are excellent at dissecting and deciphering inefficiencies within the marketplace. The visionary traits attributed to charismatic leaders are often a result of compiling facts, critical thinking, and finding solutions to various problems.  The late Steve Jobs of Apple is an excellent example of charismatic leader’s ability to discover inefficiencies within the marketplace.  By looking at the marketplace and the emerging needs of consumers, Apple’s invention of I-Tunes transformed the music industry into marketing and selling music differently online.  Charismatic leaders utilize the skill set of knowledge workers to formulate and guide innovation aligning with the long-term growth potential of the organization. 

  1. Charismatic leaders create disciples within their ranks.  The idea behind loyalty stems from the belief that relationships are symbiotic and mutually beneficial to the participating parties. In other words, the more value you create for individuals within an organization, the more loyal these individuals become towards you. By fulfilling latent or hidden needs within people, they become your eyes, ears, and mouthpiece within the organization.  By becoming the “go to” person within your organization, you become known inside and outside the organization as a person who can get the job done as well as breed loyalty within employees. The ability to read and fulfill the needs of individuals is a valuable trait during times of uncertainty. Charismatic leaders create disciples by recruiting, grooming, and setting standards for employees.  In turn, followers try to reciprocate by meeting these standards.  In this vein, the symbiotic relationship between charismatic leaders and knowledge workers feeds the need for knowledge workers to do meaningful work and in turn become evangelists to colleagues inside and outside the organization. Knowledge sharing between these workers becomes the bedrock for progression.

3    3.  Charismatic leaders recruit and attract disciples within a company. Employees who admire a charismatic leader’s personality and ambition will emulate his style as well as jockey for roles on projects led by the leader. Through these disciples or supporters within the company, charismatic leaders create internal networks that facilitate the acquisition and distribution of information. Such information allows the charismatic leader to be knowledgeable about upcoming threats and opportunities. Because charismatic leaders are agile and mobile when exploiting opportunities, they can determine if an opportunity allows them to play a larger role within a company or leave to set up operations elsewhere. In this vein, supporters might be inclined to leave with the charismatic leader causing a potential drought of skilled workers within a company.

     4. Charismatic leaders commit to the process as well as the outcome. Because charismatic leaders judge themselves by their performance, they commit to the process with the expectation of specific results. However, they ingratiate themselves to the process as “actors,” because the process or system is the fundamental mechanism they can control. Charismatic leaders see a direct correlation between their actions and the desired outcome. Consequently, charismatic leaders view knowledge management as a means of achieving an overarching mission. Because of the control given to knowledge workers by the charismatic leader, knowledge workers commit to the system as well because they are aiding in the creation and development.

Although knowledge workers are self-motivated, needing little supervision, the charismatic leader’s role in this regard is to inspire, suggest, and get out of the way.  As long as the mission is meeting organizational needs, the charismatic leader is a cheerleader for the knowledge worker.

For a Free e-book on becoming more charismatic and influential, visit:


Flaherty, J.E. (1999). Peter Drucker: Shaping the managerial mind (How the world’s foremost management thinker crafted the essentials of business success). San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Newman, B. (1991). An open discussion of knowledge management. The Knowledge Management Forum. Retrieved from:

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