Knowledge (Main)


Understanding Knowledge

“Knowledge is power …. Knowledge increases influence?”

Less power … more influence?

It is often said that ‘knowledge is power’, originally attributed to Francis Bacon, a term also apparently used consistently by Thomas Jefferson who equated knowledge with safety, and happiness as well as power[1].  Interestingly, knowledge is one of the factors why the founding fathers were so successful in creating what is arguably today the world’s most influential nation.  History shows that although there were vast differences of opinion and conflict between them that they did act as a team. At different times, when individual skills, knowledge and expertise were required, those with the appropriate qualities stepped forward.  They then stepped back again when a different set of qualities were needed.  From a leadership perspective, it is more about applying this knowledge to the practice of leadership and, ultimately, practical wisdom.  Knowledge alone will be insufficient in and of itself; knowledge needs to be both managed and led.


Introducing ‘Knowledge’

It is often said that ‘knowledge is power’; More accurately, ‘knowledge is influence’

Old World Leaders (OWLS)
Leaders as Teacher Owls

Epistemology represents our body of knowledge, and, from a leadership perspective, it is about applying this knowledge to the practice of leadership and, ultimately, practical wisdom. Knowledge alone will be insufficient in and of itself; knowledge needs to be both managed and led.

“Knowledge management is about getting knowledge from those who have it to those who need it in order to improve organisational effectiveness”

In terms of leading knowledge, this is akin to the black box of leadership. We have previously explored the need to know what is currently known but equally to recognise and understand what is presently unknown. The role of leadership is to close the gap between what is known and what is unknown and then to create the conditions to enable collective others to innovate in achieving the organisational or network effects that the leadership desires.

It is in this respect (both organisational and networked effectiveness) that knowledge needs to be shared and this is the most important element of intelligent leadership.

Knowledge ‘as influence’ (rather than knowledge ‘as power’) is thus about creating the widest possible impression through the sharing of relevant knowledge.

We will use the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘Knowledge’ – “The faculty of understanding or knowing; intelligence or intellect”.

Make an Impression in Sharing Knowledge

In developing evidence-based leadership, knowledge needs to be shared across organisations and networks.
Impression of share knowledge

How can we ensure that appropriate knowledge is shared in seeking to achieve impact for the important outcomes that underpin the collective vision?


Ensuring that decisions are based on the widest possible range of viewpoints within the constraints of problem integrity

Balancing information of ‘the heart’ and that of the ‘head’ in guiding decisions.

Creating ways to engage, share and communicate effective innovation in developing wisdom.

Keeping up to date with current thinking and best practice to ensure that leadership and its development impacts on the key purpose of the organisation or its networks and the public interest.

Is space created for integrated problem solving based on shared knowledge?

To what extent do organisations and networks show commitment to the development of a shared knowledge hub for the purposes of knowledge management and leadership?


Gremlin image "Not invented here!"


Outside sources of innovation are an important part of shared knowledge but this creates huge challenges, not least of which is the need to shift company attitudes from the “’not invented here’ to enthusiasm for those ‘proudly found elsewhere’” (Huston and Sakkab 2006) or, as Lord John Stevens1 described as ‘borrowing with pride’.

The reasons for not wanting to use the work of others are varied. Two examples concern patent infringement or lack of understanding, but it is often related to a much less rational reaction of an unwillingness to acknowledge or value the work of others through turf-wars, cultural differences and – more often than not – jealousy and ego!

So, how do we encourage an approach to shared learning that encourages “borrowing with pride?” The benefits are immense. As Huston and Sakkab argue using the example of Proctor and Gamble (P&G), for every 1 researcher in P&G there were some 200 experts elsewhere in the world who were just as good “a total of perhaps 1.5 milion people whose talents we could potentially use” (p.61)

Philosophical debate abounds in relation to what constitutes knowledge and ultimately, evidence. You can read more about our thinking in relation to a twenty-first century theory of knowledge for leadership elsewhere but for the purposes of this section, it is enough to say that the meaning of ‘knowledge’ is complex, but a clear understanding is possible. Once understood, this will affect how leaders frame the leadership problem

The art of Reflection and Reflexivity

Reflecting on your learning

Reflection and reflexivity help us to answer the intelligent leadership questions of ‘what’ and ‘why’ and ‘where’ and ‘when’ and ‘who’ and ‘how’. It concerns, first reflecting in the mirror, but then followed by looking through the mirror.  Knowing what to reflect upon out of the whole of one’s professional experience is not a clear process.  For this reason, we argue that reflection and reflexivity start from the challenge/s you face as a leader.  You draw on your knowledge of your experience within the challenge by applying reflective practice which combines both reflection and reflexivity.



Looking at our actions in the mirror is the first step on the road to Adaptation.”

Thinking back on our actions

Looking in the mirror
Looking in the mirror


Reflection is a state of mind which encourages us to think back to a point in time during a leadership challenge. It also involves giving thought to how you think others perceived the event and your leadership. Your reflection involves a detailed consideration of the events or situations beyond yourself as well as what you can control or influence. This can be an individual activity or supported by others. Ask the intelligent questions; what, why, when, how, and where and who?

Thinking through our actions

Looking through the Mirror
Looking through the Mirror

Reflexivity is about looking forward with a view to finding ways in which you can proactively question your own process of thinking in relation to both the situation and your relationships with others. You can ask the same six intelligent questions but, this time, in proactively seeking to increase your influence over the leadership situation by questioning your own attitudes, values and behaviours and the impact that you had on others around you.

The benefits of reflective and reflexive practice

Think back to our Leadership3 model and the three dimensions; understanding the challenge, building capacity and capability in dealing with the challenge and then applying a leadership style that is appropriate to the context of the challenge. At the heart of the two first dimensions is the need to identify what is currently known through to the identification of what we do not yet know what we do not know. Refresh your understanding here if you want to remind yourself of these essential dimensions.

At a broad level, reflective practice assists practitioners to learn from experience about themselves, their work, and the way they relate to home and work, significant others and wider society and culture. It enables :

“Strategies to bring things out into the open, and frame appropriate and searching questions never asked before. It can provide relatively safe and confidential ways to explore and express experiences otherwise difficult to communicate. It challenges assumptions, ideological illusions, damaging social and cultural biases, inequalities, and questions personal behaviours which perhaps silence the voices of others or otherwise marginalise them”2.

In looking to apply reflective practice, we can once again make use of our six Intelligent Leadership Questions repeated in three stages:

(Look into the mirror at YOUR role in the challenge situation)

  • What were you feeling or thinking at the time that the challenge emerged?
  • Why did you feel concerned?
  • How did it effect you and in which ways did your feelings or thoughts change?
  • When did if first occur to you that you needed to do something?
  • Where did you most feel these emotions (your head, your hand, your heart, or your soul)?
  • Who were you most worried about?

(Look into the mirror at YOUR role in the challenge situation)

  • What did you know, what did you want to know but did not know through to what you do not know about that which you do not know about the issue?
  • Why did you feel concerned about the issue and your impact (or its potential) on this issue?
  • How did your actions align with what you believed or assumed about the issue (think back to your emotions and thoughts)?
  • When did the challenge and its underlying issues first emerge (and what was happening around you at the time)?
  • Where was the challenge most evident; and
  • Who were the main recipients and stakeholders who were affected by the challenge?

(Look through the mirror (at both you and the leadership challenge))

  • What do you now know that will make your response more impactful? (What is the evidence that has led you to this conclusion?)
  • Why will your new way of feelings, beliefs, values and understanding (about the issue and its response) change the outcome?
  • How will you implement your emergent change approaches? (What can you influence and how will you deal with the things that you cannot influence?)
  • When will you act and in what stages?
  • Where will you focus your efforts (and again ask why?)?
  • Who do you need to engage (in which ways and again, why? and with what impact)?

In drawing your reflective practice together, you will need to think about and plan your own role and boundaries.


  1. Lord Stevens, Former HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis from 2000 until 2005
  2. Bolton, G. (2005) Reflective practice: writing and professional development (2nd ed. ed.). London: SAGE, page 2.

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