Introduction to the Knower and Learner Mindset

The pace of business has clearly accelerated in the last 15 years. Instantaneous communications, technology and collaboration tool combined with an ever increasing percentage of college-educated workers has truly changed how leaders can and should interact with their employees.  Leaders can choose to evolve as their employee base grows and evolves, or they can continue trying to lead with a traditional command and control style.

For the past 60 years, leaders have generally tackled problems and made decisions using the same managerial approach. This approach assumes an autocratic, or what we call the Knower Leader mindset in dealing with employees resulting in leadership focused more on tasks and results rather than on the morale and engagement of the workforce. However, the days of an all-knowing manager are gone given the speed and demands of today’s businesses. It is impossible for any one leader to know everything in today’s fast-moving work environment, yet many feel compelled to assume this position; either due to insecure egos or fear of vulnerability should they admit to not knowing answers to questions posed from colleagues.

Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win offers leaders a chance to review their leadership styles: do they lead from the perspective of a knower mindset or from the perspective of a learner mindset? The challenge is for knower managers to learn to shift their mindset allowing them to achieve business goals while empowering and inspiring their teams. The idea is to produce a compelling culture in which people produce solutions in an environment that allows for greater results with individuals and teams feeling support and encouraged to be a part of the solution.

What is a Knower Leader

The knower leader is more like a military general with the authority to get things accomplished.  He or she instills a sense of urgency and can use fear to produce results.  This leader enjoys the success of “taking the hill” along with accolades that accrue from an authoritative style. The knower leader often produces results; however, team motivation and morale will degrade over time often times having the culture erode by competitive stress and fear of failure rather than the flow and accomplishment that comes from a collaborative-competitive supportive dynamic..

The eighty million millennials in today’s workplace demand leadership with a different mindset from yesteryear.  Millennials are inspired to learn from a learner leader – one who values input and collaboration.  Learner leaders are committed to guiding their teams rather than barking orders. The learner leader understands that success arises from the team as a whole; therefore, he or she relies on empowered teamwork to get tasks accomplished. Google is a great example of a modern-day business that uses a company-wide learner leader mentality. Employees are encouraged to question, to create and to explore. Where some companies or leaders demand long employee resumes, with lists of titles and accomplishments; companies that instill a learner leader mindset are interested in attracting individuals who can not only do the job but also thrive in a collaborative, team-based environment. They want to see a team where the “we” has more importance than the “me.”

Leading from a knower mindset is always tempting. It’s an ego boost to have others believe that you have all the answers to the challenges of the day.  In some ways it’s easier not to have your assumptions or patterns questioned. However, the goal is to notice where you need to calibrate your leadership style for greater impact.  Knower leaders may play the game well, but it will be the learner leaders who can change the game when innovative and possibility thinking is required.  Where is your mindset on the chart – more on the left or right?


  1. This is one awesome forum post. Keep writing. Lingbeek

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