Leadership Focus: Knowledge Workers – Nu Leadership Series

“ A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or regard that quality in its chosen leaders today – and in fact we have forgotten.”
John F. Kennedy

Do your workers really embrace the changes in your workplace? Do they “feel you” as you try to model the way? With over 15 years of federal experience, I have seen numerous reinventing, restructuring, and reengineering initiatives fail because they were not sustainable. I have conducted numerous organizational assessments of private businesses, government organizations, and nonprofit organizations. I have seen millions of dollars being spent on restructuring initiatives.

Some changes gain some marginal success while others are marked “dead on arrival.” Senior executives ponder to each other about why these good programs fail. They are shocked that their employees do not embrace their good ideas. What is the problem with the implementation of organizations in restructuring initiatives? Many organizational structural alignments have failed because of two primary reasons:

  • Arrogant leaders favor a predictable “top-down” management style that does not solicit the input of workers, middle managers, or customers.
  • Senior managers underestimate the potential contribution of knowledge workers in the decision-making of an organization.

Let’s explore these bold claims. Organizational structures in some companies are being held captive by a few managers. This fact would not be a problem if these managers were more inclusive in their management styles. Many are not. Therefore, many organizations will suffer in the long-term. Forward-thinking organizations utilize innovation and imagination to infuse new thinking into their processes while moving beyond traditional bureaucratic boxes. However, operating in this manner conflicts with the “top-down” approach.

Many managers believe the myth that they’re smarter than their employees. Although organizations solicit employee input, many don’t want any feedback. Even though some workers may be smart and have access to information 24/7, most managers do not let them make routine decisions. Some leaders fear the knowledge worker.

Peter Drucker, author of Landmarks of Tomorrow, coined this term but was focusing on the informational technology field. Knowledge workers don’t perform just for monetary reasons (getting paid) but believe they can make the organization better with their contributions. Drucker noted, “Organizations that understand this…will be able to attract, hold, and motivate the best performers. That will be the single biggest factor for competitive advantage in the next 25 years.”

Therefore, organizational leaders need to be receptive of input from knowledge workers in organizational restructuring.


Morgan, G. (1997). Imagination. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Searchcrm.techtarget.com (2006). Received on May 19, 2006 from


Drucker, P. (2000). Managing knowledge means managing oneself. Received on May 19, 2006 from http://www.pfdf.org/leaderbooks/L2L/spring2000/drucker.html.

© 2006 by Daryl D. Green