There is a disease—it’s an attitude, really—that destroys great leadership and can damage organizations. I want to identify this toxic attitude for you and help you root it out of your life and all that you lead.

I call it “The Priesthood of Knowledge.” Now, let me say quickly that by using these words I am not taking shots at the good religious priests in the world. No, I’m striking at a kind of priesthood that has no place in a thriving organization.

Picture this. Someone in a firm gains a great deal of knowledge. Perhaps the company has sent them for training or a degree. Perhaps more experienced people have invested in them. Perhaps much of their knowledge came through self-education. Whatever the process, this individual acquired understanding and skill. It is all good. It is all admirable.

Now, the purpose for all the costly investment in this person ought to be that he or she disseminates that knowledge. They teach. They give their information and skills away. They are open-handed with all they receive. In the words of an ancient text, “Freely they received, freely they give.” As a result, the organization improves.

Others with knowledge and skill arise because this knowledgeable one invested in them. Since they are encouraged to “grow what they know”—in other words, research and explore—a culture of innovation thrives. New knowledge, new techniques are developed. The field is transformed. Everyone prospers.

A priesthood of knowledge reverses all this. A person who conducts themselves as a priest of knowledge holds what they know tightly and will not give it away. They see themselves as the “master,” the “expert,” the “One Who Must Be Approached.” Their insecurities demand that others look to them as the source, so they dole out their knowledge and skills in small amounts.

This priestly mentality jealously guards what it has, you see. It will not give freely. It will not invest. It has a treasure it values highly, and it holds that treasure as tightly as possibly, giving away only what is necessary. The goal is to preserve the authority, the control, the mystery—in short, the power.

This cancerous priesthood of knowledge attitude kills great leadership. A leader is supposed to be about investing in others. A great leader gives away all his knowledge and mastery as rapidly as he can. He wants those he leads to surpass him. This is where growth comes from. Obviously, if a leader is infected by a priesthood of knowledge attitude, he hoards what he knows, does not invest, does not train, and therefore does not build.

In addition, an organization infected by the priesthood of knowledge will not innovate. Self-proclaimed experts devoted to guarding their turf believe they have arrived. They do not need to learn or grow or test new ideas. They just need to guard the borders of their fiefdom. No need for the new. No need for exploration. No need to surrender outworn ideas to brilliant new ones.

Check yourself. Check your company. Check your team. Has anyone—you most of all—begun to function like a Priest of Knowledge? If the answer is yes, you know what to do. Challenge, correct, re-train, restructure and rework your culture as necessary. Great days will arrive if you do.

That’s it. Happy Fourth of July to you.


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