Are You Too Knowledgeable?


When I begin working with a new client, one of the first things I do is to interview their stakeholders. This helps my client and me to learn more about their most effective behaviors as well as those that are potential areas for development. After doing many of these over the years, I’ve learned to look for certain things that might signal a developmental need.

Interestingly, there is one strength that is often mentioned that I like to pay attention to; particularly when it is consistently mentioned by stakeholders. Although it is an important one, this strength can cause some problems with the relationships the leader has with peers, direct reports and others.

You might be surprised to learn what this potentially problematic strength is. Are you ready? This wonderful – but often detrimental strength is knowledge. Not wisdom or understanding, but subject and/or technical knowledge.

Do you pride yourself on what you know? Do you constantly let others know how much you know? When you put too much emphasis on your knowledge as a source of influence, the following negative consequences can occur:

Listening stops: When you believe you know all of the right answers, you stop listening to other’s ideas. This stifles creativity, and can be a source for flawed decision making.

Respect declines: Your respect for other’s knowledge and opinions might deteriorate. They feel it, and morale suffers. They may stop respecting you and others around them.

Delegation is absent: Since you know more than others, you might think you are the only one who knows enough to get the work done.

Learning is lacking: Since you aren’t delegating, your direct reports aren’t challenged to do new things. If they aren’t challenged, they aren’t learning and developing.

You’re working too hard: Knowledge can be such a burden. Not only does it require you to keep up with all of the new knowledge, it may keep you from delegating because you are “the only one who knows enough to get the job done”.

Winning is the only option: Compromise or collaboration may be out of the question. Your knowledge reigns supreme, and you know you are always right. Dissention, alternative ideas, or different thinking may not be tolerated.

Promotion is not likely: Your reliance on knowledge may prevent you from developing wisdom, understanding, intuition, respect for others, compromise – all of which are needed to succeed in the upper levels of leadership.

Knowledge is necessary for leading. Over-reliance on your knowledge can be a career derailer. Temper your knowledge with listening for understanding, respecting others’ opinions, delegating and trusting others to get the work done, being open to learning new things, compromising and collaborating. Your leadership abilities will soar!


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

7 comments on “Are You Too Knowledgeable?

  1. Couldn’t agree more! Unfortunately clients are often buying your time for your knowledge so it is an easy trap to fall into. I have tried hard to follow the advice in books like “The Trusted Advisor” to ensure that I listen to the client, have a shared understand of their problems and what they want to achieve before applying any knowledge I might have to come up with “solutions”. Often they already have the knowledge/answers anyway they just need a catalyst. As I tweeted earlier today “I feel my role as consultant often is more abt giving others permission 2 pursue change as it’s about telling them what the change should be.”

  2. Once, the manager I work for demanded I answer his question. He asked..”Do you (I) think you are smarter than me?” Without hesitation I told him damn so. The managers in my office are not educated and have achieved their positions through nepotism and brown nosing. Rather than utilize those with both inherent and learned knowledge, the people who can do the job are purposefully hindered. Now, during these financially difficult times, Congress is trying to shut my office down.

  3. Hi Kate, Thanks for the confirmation and the link to your post.

    Hi Hal, I wish you the best in dealing with the managers in your place of work. I would hazard a guess that whomever is at the top of your organization has set the tone for a lot of bad management and office politics. There are plenty of good bosses out there and I hope you’ll have a chance to work with some of them.

  4. Great point. What is scary is that it can be a blindspot of note, so people don’t realise when they start becoming condescending to their team and losing faith in them, resulting in nothing being good enough.

    Kris Lander does bring up an interesting perspective about consulting. I chuckled with appreciation as I am currently reading Obliquity by John Kay and that comes up early in the boon in terms of why people use consultants.

  5. Thabo, wow – condescending is a kiss of death! I would hope that someone would be able to tell that condescending leader what they are noticing. Thanks for stopping over and for the reading suggestion.

Comments are closed.