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Jack Dunigan


Four Types of Leadership Knowledge

Nothing builds confidence like being in the know

Published: Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 12:02

When the definition of power includes the “ability to exert influence,” then you’re also describing an element of leadership: knowledge. Take, for example, Ann Landers.

Ann Landers is a pen name invented by Chicago Times columnist Ruth Crowley in 1943 and taken over by Eppie Lederer in 1955. For 56 years, the “Ask Ann Landers” syndicated advice column was a regular feature in many newspapers across North America. A few months after Lederer took over the column, her twin sister, Pauline Phillips, started her own column calling it “Dear Abby.” Through the years millions of readers have read thousands of columns.

Then add the many other advice-givers in print and broadcast media, throw in celebrities’ endorsements of products and political candidates, and add it to an educational system that credentials experts, and the sum is a civilization intent on yielding authority to knowledge givers.

Indeed, being in the know adds depth, credibility, and authority to your place of power. Nothing builds confidence like being in the know, like being proven to be correct.

In a moment of shameless self-promotion, let me refer to my book, Three Absolutely Necessary, Always Present Skills of an Effective, Successful Leader (Creative Space Independent Publishing, 2012), wherein this point is skill No. 1. Effective leaders understand what’s going on by virtue of their experience, training, insight, and knowledge. They then know what to do next, know why it is important to take that action next, and know how to make it happen.

Knowledge has such power, exerts such influence because followers seek out these four things.

Solutions to problems

People look to us to resolve issues. The fastest way to move away from leadership is to manifest ignorance. A few days ago we watched the taut thriller U-571. Without giving away the plot, there is one scene where the exec was faced with a tough choice and confessed publicly that he did not know what to do. Later, in private, the chief took him to task for that, saying that the leader must never admit he does not know what to do. Once your people believe that you do not know, your ability to influence them and consequently your power, greatly diminishes. Hint: Even if you don’t know, find out, figure out, work it out. Never, I mean never, even hint that you are in the dark.

Answers to questions

This is why Ann Landers, Dear Abby, Miss Manners, and Dr. Phil do so well. Life gets complicated. We face dilemmas. We have questions. We look to, and ascribe authority to, people who have answers. Answer-men and -women explain why, what, and how... and consequently, we lend them great authority. A month or so ago, I noticed that my left eye was not focusing properly, and that when I looked at a straight line there, was a small dip in the line about one-third of the way from the left. This happened with any and all straight lines. I figured I needed new glasses, and this was accelerated when I stepped on them and broke them.

So I made an appointment and went for an eye exam. When the doctor finished, he told me I needed to see a retina specialist because there appeared to be a blister on the retina of my left eye. I left there and made an appointment. Before the appointment I googled my condition and found a medical site that told me that a blister-like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, that they do not know why, there is no cure, and that it usually goes away in four to six months.

When I returned from the retina specialist, I relayed to my wife what the doctor said: that a blister-like bubble will sometimes form on the retina, they do not know why, there is no cure, and that it usually goes away in four to six months. It was precisely what I had learned for free on the internet, but that doctor’s fee of $100+ now brought assurance that the answer was the answer. Having the answer contains value, in this case $100.

Information to fill a void

Consultants make their living because of an information void. We know what piece or pieces are missing and what to do about it. You might have heard the story of the consultant who was hired to find out why a particular manufacturing process was not working. He looked around the plant, walked over to a particular pipe, pointed to a certain spot, and told the manager to “smack it with a heavy hammer.”

He did so, and it started working. When the consultant sent his bill for $1,000, the company objected to the charge, saying that was a lot of money to hit a pipe with a hammer. He resubmitted an itemized bill that read:

Hitting a pipe with a hammer: $1

Knowing just where to hit it: $999

Directions when they can’t find the way

When I think of leadership, this is the image that first comes to my mind. Leadership paints an image to me of movement toward a destination. Not talking about it, not planning for it, but moving toward it. This is also why I discount the idea that one can lead from behind. One can manipulate from behind, but one cannot lead.

Life coaches do so well these days because the advice and assurance offered by someone whose opinion we respect holds tremendous value. I was counseling a young couple that had started a business. Their business was about two years old, and they wanted to know if things were going as well as they should. After reviewing their accounts and plan, it was obvious that they were indeed on the right track. They remarked that they just needed someone of experience to tell them things were OK.

But I counsel many others who are not doing so well. They are just starting out and cannot see the way. Leaders have tremendous opportunity here to show people the way.

Among the bases of power, which also include official, transactional, and coercive, knowledge is by far the most prevalent and most effective. Education and experience packaged together yield powerful leadership.

Check out the video:


First published on The Practical Leader blog.


About The Author

Jack Dunigan’s picture

Jack Dunigan

For more than four decades, Jack Dunigan has been leading, consulting, training, and writing. His experience is varied and comprehensive. His training and consulting clients are as varied as the Chief Justice of the Navajo Supreme Court to a top-rated campsite management company. But his advice is not merely academic. His blog, www.ThePracticalLeader.com, is focused on practical advice for leaders and managers of businesses, corporations, nonprofit agencies, families, organizations, departments, anywhere and anytime a person leads others. His latest book is Three Absolutely Necessary, Always Present Skills of an Effective, Successful Leader (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012).