Knowledge : The Power of Superior Knowledge and Skills


In the slide-show on John Gardner's work, Mick Yates mentions "don't confuse leadership with Power / Status / Authority". I agree, in the conventional meaning of those terms. Certainly in many organisations these things are often confused with leadership. In Maslow's terms, people who do this are the "esteem - trippers", and in terms I have heard within my own organization "because I have more stripes" !

These egotists are hungry for ego-massage, and they make it crystal clear that is what is required to keep them happy. Luckily, most people see through this game even while playing it diligently, so there is a built-in reality check somewhere. Not that it prevents the game being played over and over again.

However, I often find that the power of superior knowledge / skills is a prime determinant of leadership. It is a real power - because others hold it in awe - certainly I do. In my own career experience, the power of somebody's superior knowledge has always challenged me to rise to that level. In that sense, leadership was in action. I have seen that working for me too, and that challenges me to strive to be even better.

Stretch goals

This power fits Mick’s model of leadership - it brings out the hidden talent in people, makes them see what they should be capable of, and makes them stretch beyond their current selves to attain the higher goal of knowledge /skill.

I guess the best examples I can think of outside corporations are in Creative Arts, Academics, Applied Sciences and Sports. In each of these it is individual knowledge or skill which creates "opinion leadership". It is that much craved for, exalted state where you are at the leading edge of that particular field - and others will flock to you for your words of wisdom. What I find different in this form of leadership is that it is not classical team leadership - it in fact derives its strength from being unique/individual and non-organizational. 

Rabindranath Tagore

One example from my own upbringing is Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning poet, writer, dramatist, and painter who revolutionized Bengali culture and thinking by his writings. A solitary bird if there ever was one, he brought the language down from its lofty Brahmin exclusivity. He challenged long-held beliefs, satirized the "more British than the Sahibs" mentality, and championed the cause of women's need for independence and intellectual nourishment at a time when they were supposed to be hidden behind the "Purdah"( curtain ). Till today, there has been no one of comparable stature in Bengali literature. His books / poems / plays are still being rediscovered as a source of intellectual and spiritual renewal. In fact Bengal's greatest ever filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, built his own legendary skills portraying some of Tagore's greatest stories and plays.    

Ayn Rand

The other example is Ayn Rand, who shook up an entire generation's socially acceptable / comfortable conformism by championing pure unbridled creativity and individualism. I remember reading Fountainhead as a teenager - and I can say that it shaped much of what I am today. It cut through to the bone and revalidating the power of pride and confidence in what you are good at, regardless of whether it is comfortable for others to accept.       


To use Maslow's terms again, to me, leadership is also self-actualization of the highest kind. Yes, it affects others, and uplifts them, and raises standards all around, but at its core, it is being what you are capable of, despite the odds. To that extent, it is exclusive, not inclusive, it is individualistic, not collective, and it is internally driven, not externally caused.

I would argue that even situational leadership actually fits this definition. The person within rises to the occasion - it is not thrust upon him or her.

Saibal can best be reached via

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