The Knower Mindset

Two generations ago, during a time when college education and professional training was sparse, contributors who met both requirements were often the ones filling out leadership positions throughout the country. Hierarchy was well defined through top down management systems, meaning decisions were concentrated and centralized, leaving only a handful of individuals in charge.

It was during this time that individuals who possessed the mindset of The Knower thrived. Knower leaders were able to move up the ranks quickly at their companies, faced with little competition from co-workers who lacked the proper education or training to compete. This resulted in the business market place moving at a slow rate.

Today’s job environment has changed. Some organizations are beginning to require graduate degrees while many more still require at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify. This explains why there are more people in America pursuing higher education than at any other point in this country’s history. In today’s hyper-competitive job market two in five Americans pursue and earn degrees after high school (NPR 4/22/11).

Your past is no longer a path to your future and your employees want to be in an active conversation about the business they are in and its future. There will always be pockets in our world where the Knower mindset can thrive (hedge funds, trading, Steve Job-type personalities who are powerfully creative and innovative, regulatory environments, health and safety vocations) – those careers where historical legacy still counts.

Some occupations today still serve the Knower mindset such as attorneys (who have to sight the case / law and form an argument) and some surgeons who honor the age-long practice for traditional surgery.

With more broadly educated employees and advancements in communication across hierarchical boundaries (i.e., associates are now comfortable emailing two levels up) along with a social shift to “open door” policies – we have elevated the spirit of management from the old Theory X to Theory Y and now it requires new behaviors but have not thought about what this new behaviors need to be. We have not offered up the new mindset.

We must always respect and learn from history and the accomplishments along the way. However, in a world dominated by data, it is no longer feasible to expect one leader to have an advanced-understanding of everything going on in a company. Today’s companies are multi-faceted and deal with a large array of verticals, which requires a high-level of collaboration and teamwork in order to conquer.

The “merit badges” of leadership give Knower Leaders the authority and there is no such merit badge like the “insanely curious.” We are making the bridge of curiosity and asking real powerful questions as leaders

The knower has, can and will have a place in our world of work. The Learner leader who we will profile next has many dynamics that better fits today’s world.

Inquiry: What other careers or roles in a business will continue to profits from a knower’s mindset. Where in your current work environment would you argue that knower behavior is vital to your success?


  1. The length of your post was perfect.

  2. Great delivery. Sound arguments. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks for sharing. Always good to find a real expert.

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