Leading Knowledge Workers: Avoid These Five Deadly Leadership Sins

by Faith Ralston

According to the latest studies, the average employee is delivering only 50% of what they are capable of offering to your organization. As a leader, you're frustrated by this lack of performance. You'd like to clone your high performers so you can become more results oriented like the entrepreneurial companies you see in the marketplace.

To capture the talents and potential of today's knowledge workers, you must recognize the dramatic rise in numbers of these employees. Knowledge workers are the individuals who use their 'brains' instead of their 'brawn' to get work done. These are the information specialists, researchers, marketing and sales experts whose talents drive the success of your business. To ensure high performance – you must manage these talented individuals differently than employees of the past. Their talents can help you take your business to the top. But like a spirited racehorse, they must be handled with care.

Avoid these five deadly sins and you'll capture knowledge workers' discretionary energy and build enthusiasm:

  1. Focus only on what's wrong. The "no news is good news" approach to leading knowledge workers is a recipe for disaster. You might think that if employees aren't screwing up, they don't need to hear from you. But knowledge workers want to be recognized. They need your attention. Recognize progress and give recognition to foster their talents and help them move in the right direction and fuel their enthusiasm. Avoid focusing only on what's wrong and acknowledge what's going right.

  2. Ignore poor performers. High-performing knowledge workers want you to deal with poor performers – otherwise the problem lands in their lap. You must address performance challenges by coaching the employee, reassigning the individual to an area where their talents are best suited – or remove them altogether. In either case, pay attention to problems and take corrective action. Don't let laggards linger, derail your progress and demotivate other employees.

  3. Overlook boredom and talent misfit. Job uncertainty and fear may prevent employees from speaking up about a change that's needed. It's your job to notice when individuals lose interest, struggle in their current position, or slack off for some unknown reason. Address these issues head on instead of allowing them to continue. There's no joy in just getting by. You don't help employees by allowing a bad fit to continue. Tough love with self and others is part of moving into the new economy.

  4. Let them say 'YES' to everything. Help knowledge workers curb their appetite to work on interesting projects that are unrelated to business priorities. No matter how exciting a project is, you must help employees discern: "Is this project contributing to the goals of the business? Can I justify the time and energy I'm spending on it? Will this initiative help us achieve the outcomes we want?" Many times, knowledge workers bite off more than they can chew. A wise leader helps employees set limits and say 'no' – for their own sake as well as for the business.

  5. Fail to give feedback. In corporate life, no one wants to hear: "This isn't working." But individuals need to know when their attitudes and behaviors are causing others a problem. No matter how exceptional the person is, he or she can make a mistake – sometimes without knowing it. A wise leader helps individuals recognize problems and learn from problems. Don't wait until there is a crisis to raise a touchy subject and give feedback. Regular feedback helps employees grow.

Your primary role as a leader is to help knowledge workers contribute their talents. Involve them in key decisions and welcome their input. Encourage collaboration with others who will stretch their minds and capabilities. Make sure employee talents are visible, seen and appreciated by others in the organization. Remember, knowledge workers want to use their talents to help your business grow. Put these ideas into action and watch teamwork and performance skyrocket!

Copyright © Faith Ralston

About the Author

Faith Ralston is president of Leaps of Faith, Inc. author and leadership coach for executive teams. Go to for information on her new book Play Your Best Hand that will be out in January 07. Join Faith's Bold Leaders Newsletter and receive a free Talent Self Assessment. Simply email: and request a free Talent Self Assessment.

We Recommend
Two Way Feedback e-book

Find out more about creating a high performance culture for knowledge workers. Check out our highly practical guide for managers and supervisors. Visit the 2 Way Feedback information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using this practical guide today.

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