Beware the Curse of Knowledge: 3 Things Leaders Must Share

Recently, I was asked to hand off a training event that I usually lead to a few of my colleagues. After they took the reins, we sat down to discuss how they did with the first event. During the discussion, I found myself getting slightly frustrated that important details were overlooked and the message wasn’t as crisp as we wanted it to be.

It was then that I realized I had withheld information that would have been helpful to my colleagues. This wasn’t intentional. Perhaps I’d mentioned a few ideas and suggestions. However, I’d assumed that my colleagues had paid attention to the strategies I used to connect to the audience, the illustrations I gave that resonated with the group and the questions I asked to bring people into the conversation. I made an assumption, a dangerous one. 

The Curse of Knowledge

I fell victim to the curse of knowledge. Honestly, it can happen to the best of us. We forget what it was like before we knew what we now know. Then, because of the curse of knowledge, we assume that the people around us know what we know. I jumped to the conclusion that if I knew which questions get the best responses from the audience and that one illustration works better than another, my colleagues did too.

As leaders, you must be particularly tuned in to how the curse of knowledge affects the way you communicate with and lead your teams.

In reflecting on this conversation and others, I identified 3 traps that leaders need to watch out for when it comes to the curse of knowledge.

How to Overcome the Curse of Knowledge

Allow me to share with you the 3 traps and how you, as a leader, can overcome them.

1. The Historical Trap – “Why don’t they remember?”

This trap is about the broader context of your organization. As leaders, we often know the storyline of our businesses, products and projects far better than others on our teams. This is especially true if you’ve been with a company longer than other team members. You know the backstory, the context, the trials and the victories. You know where the company has come from. You know the ups and downs along the way. You know the shifting patterns of decisions, priorities, and spending. As decisions are made and things change it is easier for you to put them into context.

Your team members may not be so fortunate. It is important to educate them about the history of the company, facility, product or projects. Share those stories. Explain how things came to be the way they are. Describe the ups and downs that you’ve witnessed. Your team will greatly benefit from having a deeper perspective.

In any organization, business or community, this is the oral tradition that is so vital to a group’s culture. As a leader, you cannot expect your team members to think like you think if they do not understand the historical context in which they work.

2. The Experience Trap – “Why don’t they know better?”

This trap is about intuition, confidence and decision making. Likely, you are in a leadership role because of your experience. You are a proud owner of the the been-there-done-that T-shirt. You’ve done and seen things that your team members haven’t. You’ve had conversations with people and been in meetings where decisions were made and ideas were shared. You’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience that is difficult to quantify, package and pass on.

Many of your team members don’t have the experience you do. I’d imagine they bring other valuable assets and experiences to the team. However, they want you to share your experiences. They want to learn from your defeats, as well as your triumphs.

Sharing your experiences with your team will help them to understand your perspective, decisions and approach. Allowing them to learn from your experiences provides your team with wisdom, which is preferred over gaining experience through trial and error. Perhaps you’ll save them a few setbacks along the way.

3. The Best Practices Trap – “Why didn’t they do it this way?”

This trap is about the winning strategies, tools and tactics you picked up along the way. You’ve likely been placed in a leadership role because you are competent, knowledgable, and effective. You have developed skills, strategies and processes that are proven to work. You’ve learned to effectively communicate with your customers or developed successful sales strategies. You’ve created short-cuts and systems that have made you successful.

Sharing these best practices with your team speeds up their learning curves and makes them more successful, faster.

In the post-training event meeting I mentioned above, my colleagues began jotting down notes when I shared a few best practices and recommendations. That was my clue that I’d been nabbed by the curse of knowledge. It isn’t that I’m any smarter than they are. Rather, I found successful strategies they could also use and apply to be more successful when they conducted that particular training. They wanted me to share my best practices.

As a leader, it can be tough to strike the right balance between a “do as I do” approach and an approach that empowers your team to blaze their own trails.

However, by sharing my best practices, I can equip my team with successful strategies they can run with while also allowing them to make refinements and stay true to their own personalities and experiences.

Start Sharing

By sharing historical stories, experiences and best practices, leaders enable their teams to thrive. Your team is waiting eagerly for you to overcome the curse of knowledge. Team members want their leaders to equip them with the tools they need to take it to the next level. Sharing your knowledge as a leader will put them well on their way to great successes. Your purpose is to make your team as successful as you possibly can.

Question: What are other areas where leaders fall subject to the curse of knowledge? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.