Saturday, May 5, 2007

How to Lead Knowledge Workers

According to Faith Ralston, President of Leaps of Faith, Inc., an author and leadership coach for executive teams, there are five deadly sins to avoid in leading knowledge workers. This is relavant to the economic developer because we are knowledge workers and we spend most of our time working with knowledge workers.

They are, according to Ralston:

1. Focus only on what's wrong.

The "no news is good news" approach to leading knowledge workers is a receipt 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 fuels 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 de-motivation 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 lost 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 organizational 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.

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