Knowledge is Not Power If You Don’t Share It

The phrase, “knowledge is power” is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon in the 1600’s. Regardless of its origin, some people interpret this statement as an entreatment to collect information for the purposes of building control and influence. After all, if you know it and someone else doesn’t, you have the power.

The best decision-makers recognize, however, that there is a critical corollary to this principle; You cannot leverage this knowledge if you do not share it. Leaders who keep secrets unreasonably, make those they lead suspicious of their motives. Managers who refuse to empower others with reasonable authority, engender resentment, distrust and employee turnover. The same thing is true of researchers, policymakers, and anyone else who trades in the currency of knowledge. Those who openly share their knowledge, with proper discretion of course, enjoy the trust and support of those around them. When challenging times arise, it is these people who rush to aid the decision-makers making tough choices.

Granted, the journey to this philosophy can be uncomfortable. First, there is our natural tendency to want to hold on to something once you’ve got it, whether this is property or influence over others. Then there’s the issue of trust. Will those with whom you share the knowledge use it appropriately and help you achieve your goals and objectives?  Finally, there is the discomfort fostered by the establishment of a new habit or practice. It’s just so much easier to remain in your comfort zone and do what you’ve always done. This is true, by the way, whether you’re a front-line supervisor or senior executive.

But no has one ever achieved the levels of success and influence society applauds by hoarding knowledge. So, how do you go about making this transition?

Observe and learn from those who do so. Consider the best decision-makers you know. How do they disseminate their knowledge and information? With whom do they share it? On what basis do they make these choices? If you don’t know, ask them. The best thinkers are usually happy to share their strategies. That’s how they developed their skills and insights. To open the conversation, you might say something like, “I’ve admired how you seem to use your knowledge to lead others. Might I buy you a cup of coffee sometime to find out how you do it?”

Decide what will be most helpful to share. Consider the knowledge you use to do your job. Who might benefit from knowing it as well? Sharing your knowledge allows you to delegate tasks, thereby saving you time and allowing you opportunity to learn new things and make new connections. It’s been said many times that the only way one moves up within an organization is to find a suitable replacement for your present position. The only way you can do this is by sharing your knowledge. Besides, if you covet information, people will eventually find ways to work around you. You don’t have to be an open book, by the way. In fact, oversharing can send the wrong message.

Begin incrementally. As I mentioned above, adopting this approach can be uncomfortable. You might be nagged by the thought that you’re giving your power away to others. Start by assigning the little tasks you should not be doing anyway. Train the appropriate person on how to perform the task. Then empower them by saying something like, “This task is yours now. Make your own decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, but I am expecting you to make it your own.” If it is a considerable task, they might be uncomfortable at first. But if you persist in empowering them, they will embrace the authority.

Leveraging knowledge is how the best decision-makers empower others, leverage their time, enhance their personal power and achieve their goals. What can you do to implement the three strategies above to leverage your knowledge?

Can’t Keep Up? 7 Quick Ways to Simplify Your Decisions

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How do the best decision makers make the best decisions? Here’s what I’ve learned through hundreds of interviews over the past 25 years. The big secret? It’s not about the strategy. It’s about execution. How do you measure up? No excuses.

Don’t decide – Extinguish your inner control freak. Stop making decisions you don’t need to. Pretzels or chips at the division lunch? Who cares? Order of the agenda? What difference does it make? Each of these little imperatives takes energy, energy that you should be expending on more critical issues. If someone has to decide, let those who are most invested do so.

Prioritize – Every Monday morning, make a list of the problems and decisions that will require your attention and energy. Assign each a level of important from 1 to 5. Ditch the 1’s. You shouldn’t be making them. If you can, delegate the 2’s and 3’s. Concentrate on the 4’s and 5’s. Easier said than done? Of course! But those making the best decisions have made this, or something like it, a practice that defines how they approach each week. Not only does it help them improve personal productivity, it inspires those around them to do the same. After all, if you want the boss’ attention, you should emulate their habits.

Delegate – If someone else can make the decision, why should you? Not only is delegation a good way to remove tasks from your plate, it’s a great to observe others in action. How well they handle what you assign is a window into their capabilities and investment in the job. Don’t just dump, however. Explain the meaning and value of what you’re assigning. If you can’t do that, maybe the task doesn’t need to be completed or the decision made.

Get clear – For each decision, ask “What will success look like? Then benchmark against this desired outcome, until the decision is made. Others’ input? Is it relevant to a success outcome? Information gleaned from research? Should it influence the decision? A compelling argument from colleague? Should it impact how you act? More data is not necessarily better, many times it’s just more data.

Spend your energy on the decisions that count – Economist Herbert defined “satisficing” as not making the best decision but the one that’s good enough. Ninety-five percent of daily decisions are “satisficable.” But it’s those five percent that impact your productivity and effectiveness. While the best decision makers certainly deal with their fair share of the urgent, they are careful to guard their energy. Fifty little decisions can drain time, focus and leave little energy for concentration.

Set aside time – Got a big decision to make? Get away and think. The people I’ve interviewed disappear to a location where they can concentrate without distractions. Those with whom they work learn that these times are sacred and disrupting them will get you on the wrong side of the boss. Some take time when necessary. Others set aside the same time every week. Significant decisions are then funneled into these periods for real concentration.

Decide! – If you’ve gathered the best information and are as close to peace as you can get, act. No matter what you decide the outcome will be different that you expect. Why? Because people are unpredictable and life happens. The best decision makers accept this and prepare for what could happen and how to respond. They also learn from these outcomes and use them to inform other decisions going forward.