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The Change of the leadership role

The shift from the industrial age to the information age has changed the role of the manager in today's organization.

Traditional industrial "management" of individuals was characterized by commands, following orders, obedience, asking permission, and compliance.

Often the leader would personally have considerable knowledge concerning many aspects of the production, and leadership was based on respect combined with fear of punishment. Furthermore, organizations would often have many layers of leaders.

The Information age started in the late 20th century and characterized by the rapid shift from traditional industry to the knowledge economy. This was primarily caused by globalization. For competitive reasons, factories were moved to counties with lower production costs.

Suddenly a majority of workers in this new economy were knowledge workers or workers whose work output is the result of thinking versus a physical process (Watson, 2007). This changed the role of the manager.

The nature of knowledge work varies with each profession – from software developers to lawyers to pharmaceutical researchers. A definition could be "Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge."

Knowledge work is difficult to measure. The manager can not watch knowledge being created in the same way as a physical, tangible product (Mindtool, n.d.). So with knowledge work, it's the final output that matters.

An essential characteristic of many knowledge workers is that they don't want someone closely overseeing their work (Mindtool, n.d.). In other words, they want autonomy. At the same time, many jobs have become highly specialized, so a present manager can not know all aspects of a given task.

A consequence of the knowledge economy is also fewer leaders. The amount of organizational layers has been cut quite dramatically over the years. Fewer leaders mean more responsibility to the knowledge worker, and they thrive on that. That is what they were trained for at university and other institutions: To be individual and state their opinion.

A manager of the past was expected to have practical knowledge of production. It has shifted to strategic thinking. Skills include priorities on networking, listening, people skills, communication skills, creative thinking, and problem-solving (Bluestein, 2012).

People skills are more critical for a manager - than specialized skills. So a modern manager becomes more like a coach - not giving the answers - but retrieving them, and then making a decision.

But there is a flipside to the coin. Knowledge workers tend to disrespect authority based on the fact that they know better, and they do in specific areas. The problem is that specialized knowledge workers often do not see the big picture in a company; only for specific areas.

A weak manager - listening too much - can become a hazard. A company is not a democracy. On the other hand, an autocratic leader will scare the specialists away, so the big task is to find a balance. Not easy.

The middle way is listening to the different viewpoints, seeing things from a broad perspective, and then making a sound decision is the right way.

References ( LEARN MORE)

Bluestein, J. (2012). Industrial Age vs. Information Age. Dr. Jane Bluestein. Retrieved from

Mindtool. (n.d.). Managing Knowledge Workers. Retrieved from

Watson, R. T. (2007). Information Systems. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Written by: Allan Loumann Lissau MBA, Kommunikationsrådgiver & Recruiter, Facebook specialist, Founder & CEO / Social Image


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