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Being a Successful Knowledge Leader - Book Review

1 July 2018
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Being a Successful Knowledge Leader: What Knowledge Practitioners Need to Know to Make a Difference" is a publication by Arthur Shelley, a notable figure in knowledge management from Australia. The book was published in 2009.


This book is tailored to a specific audience, primarily encompassing individuals deeply involved in knowledge management. Its readership includes client managers, knowledge management professionals, and consultants who serve as facilitators of realization.


The book covers a wide range of topics, including:

 Career Path:

- Attributes and Proficiencies



- Approaches to Implementation



- Management Techniques

- Knowledge Management Tools

- Fostering Knowledge Sharing and Assimilation


Holistic Knowledge Management:

- The Integrated Concept


Illustrative Case Studies


The book contains a wealth of knowledge and insights relevant to managers and leaders in a broader context and of significant importance to knowledge managers. The content is thoughtfully curated, blending cutting-edge theories and concepts with Shelley's extensive hands-on expertise.


The value of learning from others' experiences is indisputable. This forms the foundation of knowledge management itself. As such, this book comes highly recommended—a priceless resource for anyone navigating the multifaceted landscape of knowledge leadership.


Guidance with Excellence

In his book, Shelley lists 20 qualities, skills, and best practices that characterize an accomplished leader. To enhance clarity, this compilation is organized into distinct subcategories, as outlined below:



Career Path:

- Attributes and Proficiencies

1. Perspective of Continuous Learning: Possesses the skills, experience, and insight to engage critically and constructively with knowledge, even in the face of gaps. It holds the ability to influence others to embrace learning and apply knowledge. Recognize the potential of knowledge to shape future business advantage and performance, thus catalyzing the transformation of those around you into a learning-centric entity.

2. Adaptive and Open Mindset: Demonstrates a flexible and adaptable mindset, readily embracing diverse ideas and concepts, even those that challenge one's beliefs. Proficiently integrates such data and information into decision-making processes. Acknowledges that openness to ideas fosters creativity and facilitates growth.



1. Proficiency in Reflective Decision-Making: Demonstrates adeptness in achieving a harmonious balance among thinking, decision-making, and execution. This proves to be a complex task in a fast-paced world. The author's perspective on decision-making emphasizes the importance of heightened knowledge, increased interaction with peers, and enhanced collaboration as the foundation for effective choices. A reflective outlook, combined with these attributes, fosters continuous learning based on personal experiences and the collective wisdom of others, especially regarding past decisions.

2. Mastery of Change Management: A symbiotic relationship exists between an adaptable and open mindset (as discussed earlier) and expertise in change management; the former naturally fuels the latter. Drawing from the insights of Cotter, Schlesinger, Goesling, and Mintzberg, Shelley integrates their concepts into his discourse on change management and executive training.

3. Mastery of Emotional Intelligence: Proficiently understands the interplay between individuals' emotions and how these emotions influence their actions. The foundational step involves grasping human emotions, a prerequisite for predicting subsequent behavior. A deep understanding of emotional dynamics equips the adept leader to make informed decisions and foster optimal engagement within the team. The advantage is that, unlike cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence can be nurtured, according to Shelley's perspective.

4. Ability to Infuse Significance; Skill in Storytelling: The capability to infuse meaning into situations relies on adapting to familiar patterns. A leader's skill in analyzing scenarios, identifying vulnerabilities, and attributing significance to key aspects empowers them to navigate risks while operating effectively. The art of storytelling further facilitates conveying meaning to others.

5. Forward-Thinking Orientation: A leader's proficiency in forward-thinking is fundamental to effective leadership. Transforming visionary ideas into concrete actions and outcomes requires determination, perseverance, and patience. A skilled knowledge leader acknowledges that charting the right course for the organization's future trajectory and investing in team learning and competencies is essential for generating sustained value over time.

6. Interpersonal Connections: Establishing personal rapport with individuals confers a distinct advantage in management endeavors and yields impactful results. Building personal connections empowers leaders to enhance team members' sense of identity and belonging within the organization, thereby driving engagement. These connections also give leaders insights into critical knowledge areas and vulnerabilities in knowledge retention. Collaboratively shaping a knowledge-sharing strategy is another realm empowered by these connections. Importantly, these skills are acquired mainly rather than inherently possessed.



- Approaches to Implementation

1. Behavioral Awareness

  • Leading by Example: Demonstrating the desired behavior as a model for others.

  • Cultivating a Willingness for Knowledge Sharing: Creating an environment where employees willingly share knowledge instead of enforcing it. Recognizing knowledge workers' inclination for independence.

  • Learning and Behavioral Awareness: Remaining receptive to employee behavior and continuously learning from it.

  • Clear and Understandable Conduct: Exhibiting behavior that is straightforward and comprehensible.

  • Holistic Perspective: Acknowledging that behavior, perceptions, culture, and environment are distinct components that require separate attention, yet together shape the context.


2. Alignment with Business

  • Business-Centric Outlook: Acknowledging managers prioritize business outcomes over knowledge management and tailoring actions accordingly.

  • Alignment with Business Goals: Ensuring compliance and congruence with business objectives.

  • Seizing Opportunities: Capitalizing on advantageous situations to achieve business objectives.

  • Strategic Program Name: Using a concise, engaging, and business-aligned name for the knowledge management initiative.

  • Emotional Connection First: Initially Establishing an emotional bond and gaining rational support. This approach illuminates the ROI (Return on Investment).


3. Strategic Mindset

  • Embracing the Need for Change: Adapting to the need for foresight while acknowledging the constant evolution of the world and the organization.

  • Stable Strategic Framework: Recognizing that a stable strategic foundation facilitates fluid transformations in practical implementation plans.

  • Long-Term Vision: Developing a strategic approach that showcases long-term achievements and gains and envisions the future organizational landscape. Laying a foundation for forthcoming endeavors.

  • Linking Potential and Values: Synthesizing potential opportunities, ideas, and challenges with core values like trust, teamwork, and creativity through knowledge-driven processes.

  • Enhancing Organizational Responses: Strategically examining how knowledge can elevate the organization's responsiveness, efficiency, and quality.


4. Collaborative Leadership


Success in knowledge management hinges on leadership, extending further into collaborative leadership encompassing:

  • Shared Belief: Leaders subscribing to the leader's path and conduct, actively pursuing the proposed direction.

  • Inclusive Environment: Leaders cultivate an environment where diverse opinions are voiced, acknowledged, and embraced with appreciation, fostering cooperation. The leadership paradigm might even include a duo or team arrangement.


5. Trust and Credibility


Trust among individuals and the leader's trustworthiness profoundly impact knowledge sharing and collaboration, underscoring its significance in knowledge management. Trust and credibility bear two dimensions:

  • Interpersonal Trust: Establishing trust between individuals.

  • Content Trust: Trusting the quality and reliability of information and other content. To bolster interpersonal trust, it's advisable to introduce individuals and their context at events, promoting opportunities to foster mutual trust.

 Note: Trust and credibility among individuals must stem from ethical and positive values


6. Effective Communication

 While actions wield more significant impact than words, communication is essential for garnering attention and facilitating movement. Elements of proficient communication include:

  • Content: Clarity of vision; Assurance of reliability.

  • Delivery Approach: Rhetorical proficiency; Adaptation to the intended audience; Potential for summarizing the message succinctly.


7. Promoting Sharing and Engagement

Knowledge-based change management pivots on sharing and involving individuals. An effective leader orchestrates voluntary sharing. The leader's active participation and personal example often stimulate broader participation. Creating a secure environment is pivotal, ensuring employees feel comfortable engaging. Sometimes, knowledge management personnel may assist senior management in updating them about participation to garner positive feedback.


8. Project-Centric Approach

 The core of knowledge management revolves around managing change related to knowledge utilization, often achieved through projects. This approach proves effective in showcasing improvements and added value. Furthermore, every business project is a prospect for knowledge discovery, creation, sharing, and application.


9. Leveraging Weak Ties Networks

 Shelley introduces "weak ties networks" as sporadic relationships among individuals who don't frequently collaborate. Skillfully tapping into these networks, often beyond the purview of formal leadership, holds the potential to foster new organizational knowledge. Opportunities for in-person interactions and connections should be identified. Successful knowledge leaders appreciate that nurturing knowledge networks is an investment, not an expenditure of time.


10.  Continuous Process Evolution

Well-defined processes guide expected behavior and set the stage for continuous improvement. Evolving processes signify ongoing refinement. Leading knowledge activities through evolving processes facilitates comprehension, offers scope for adopting exceptional improvement ideas, and contributes to organizational stability over time.


11.  Environmental Advocate

The connection between fostering an innovative environment and leadership is significant. A leader invested in fostering creativity, embracing risk, and facilitating productive communication generates a conducive atmosphere for employee growth. This encompasses both physical and emotional safety.


12.  Recognition and Reward

Many leaders, particularly those in the knowledge and learning domain, gravitate toward process-driven approaches. An adept knowledge leader, however, emphasizes outcome-based results. This focus extends to organizational and individual levels, accounting for remuneration, recognition, and appreciation systems in designing change management processes for knowledge initiatives.




- Management Techniques

1. Project Management: Knowledge management and project management, distinct domains, intersect.

  • Projects offer organizational opportunities for knowledge enhancement and sharing.

  • Knowledge and managed practices are critical for project success. Shelley proposes a dual-track approach:

    • Fundamentals: Infrastructure, tools, processes, networks, knowledge communities, and behaviors.

    • Knowledge management projects to locate and share knowledge across domains.

Aware of project failure rates, Shelley underscores the human element and emphasizes a circular interaction pattern: communicate, connect, collaborate, reap tangible benefits, and then communicate again (success).


2. Activity Monitoring and Performance Analysis: Monitoring and evaluating activities are crucial for success. However, prioritize qualitative metrics with value and measurability over quantitative ones. Focus on collecting success stories, anecdotes, and testimonies that highlight achievements.


3. Integration of Change: Integrating change within the organization is pivotal for success, and methods from change management can facilitate knowledge management. Shelley suggests applying the Black & Gregson model:

  • Prompting individuals to recognize the need for change.

  • Motivating people to take action.

  • Guiding people through required steps

  • Providing a clear path for the change journey.


Additional Methods from Diverse Management Domains:

1. Complexity Theory: In the inherently complex world of knowledge management, adopting theories from this field advances organizational knowledge management. Snowden's framework categorizes the world into known, knowable, complex, and chaotic, offering insights for appropriate strategies.

2. Role-Plays: Role-play enables scenario creation and analysis, enhancing awareness and investigating potential undesirable outcomes.

3. Constructive Discourse: Tools like De Bono's thinking, circles of influence, and Socratic discourse foster effective brainstorming and positive dialogues among individuals.

4. Questioning: Appreciative inquiry approach delves into positive events, extracting insights for learning. The process involves discovery, visioning, planning, and implementation.

5. Advocacy and Inquiry: Balancing idea presentation with receptiveness to others' opinions, advocacy, and inquiry approaches facilitate organizational buy-in and constructive discourse.

6. Communities for Ownership: Identifying and involving individuals and groups inclined to lead gains traction, attracting others through their involvement.

7. Technological Tools: Despite the preceding methods, technology fosters interaction and sharing. Shelley underscores the value of social media solutions (WIKI, blogs, social tagging, etc.) for facilitating knowledge sharing. However, the focus should not solely rest on tool novelty but on their potential contribution.

8. Behavioral Profiling: Leveraging techniques from human resources like Meyer-Briggs, DISC, and EQ, behavioral profiling facilitates reflective thinking and motivates fruitful dialogues and interactions between individuals.


- Knowledge Management Tools

 Knowledge Management Approaches and Tools

 Shelley presents a range of knowledge management methods and tools designed to suit typical requirements. Noteworthy is his classification of solution types, offering a different perspective on the concept of solutions:

Addressing the Need for Expert Knowledge Retention

 Methods and tools include:

  • Mentoring programs

  • Managing labor relationships

  • Initiating training programs

  • Alumni programs

  • Documentation and presentations

  • Sharing success stories

  • Capturing lessons learned

  • Generating reports

  • Creating tutorials

  • Conducting interviews

  • Utilizing storytelling


Enhancing Accessibility of People and Knowledge

 Methods and tools encompass:

  • Knowledge networks

  • Communities of interest

  • Individual profiles

  • Governing work processes

  • Implementing federated search systems

  • Document and content management

  • Applying standard taxonomies


Ensuring Role-based Information Accessibility

 Methods and tools involve:

  • Role-specific portals

  • Managing permission systems for groups


Fostering Collaboration

Methods and tools include:

  • Knowledge Communities

  • Video-conferencing

  • Personal profiles

  • Portals, wikis, blogs, and websites

  • Conducting webinars with collaborative features


Addressing Knowledge Needs Assessment

 Methods and tools encompass:

  • Creating knowledge maps

  • Identifying knowledge at risk of being lost

  • Developing specialization maps

  • Crafting knowledge profiles


Motivating Voluntary Knowledge Sharing and Integration

Methods and tools involve:

  • Recognition and reward mechanisms

  • Guiding channels

  • Systems for managing alerts and content downloads

  • Idea management systems


Monitoring Knowledge Use and Value Creation


Methods and tools include:

  • Storytelling

  • Monitoring tools for tracking item traffic and usage

  • Utilizing email monitoring tools to analyze frequent contacts


Expert Question and Answer Platform

 Methods and tools encompass:

  • Virtual and human community forums

  • Searchable question-and-answer databases


Facilitating Information Sharing and Interaction

Methods and tools involve:

  • Virtual workspaces

  • Shared document repositories

  • Virtual forums

  • Social media platforms

  • Instant messaging tools

  • Blogs

  • Wikis


Locating Information and Knowledge

Methods and tools encompass:

  • Document management systems

  • Organizing computational work libraries (folders) with hierarchies

  • Enabling document tagging (metadata)


Intellectual Property (IP) Management

 Methods and tools involve:

  • Establishing an idea repository

  • Defining IP processes and safeguarding them


Talent Recruitment and Retention

 Methods and tools include:

  • Implementing knowledge retention programs

  • Initiating organizational development initiatives for skill enhancement


Preserving Tacit Knowledge

Methods and tools encompass:

  • Encouraging individuals with critical knowledge to stay through incentives

  • Cultivating a collaborative work environment and culture


Accessible Historical Insights

Methods and tools involve:

  • Archives with search capabilities

  • Alumni networks

  • Personal profiles


Idea Exchange Platform

 Methods and tools encompass:

  • Knowledge base for idea registration and search


Assimilating Knowledge Behaviors


Methods and tools involve:

  • Cultivating committed and disciplined managers who encourage participation in various solutions


Capturing Insights from New Entrants and External Sources


Methods and tools encompass:

  • Conferences and forums

  • Utilizing RSS feeds and alert engines

  • Leveraging external literature

  • Engaging newsletters

  • Participating in customer forums

  • Utilizing media monitoring tools

  • Researching suppliers

  • Monitoring research trends

  • Tracking training developments

  • Creating idea banks

  • Exploring emerging technologies


Creating an Active Environment

Methods and tools include:

  • Providing leadership guidance

  • Facilitating engagement in knowledge communities


- Fostering Knowledge Sharing and Assimilation

Leading organizational change to promote knowledge sharing and effectively utilizing knowledge is essential for success. Without this, deriving additional value from knowledge management remains unattainable.


As explained in the preceding chapters, Shelley attributes a significant portion of his success to process leaders, encompassing their capabilities, conduct, and the tools they employ. Furthermore, Shelley acknowledges several supplementary factors conducive to change management:

  • Addressing topics of significance to individuals (organizational objectives that resonate with people)

  • Integrating knowledge within employees' work environment (the book illustrates instances of such integration across various organizational sectors)

  • Recognizing that fostering sharing is attainable, but enforcing it is not; acknowledging that contextual relevance dictates what we need to know, and appreciating that we possess more knowledge than we can articulate, and articulate more than we can document (as per Snowden)

  • Establishing robust ties between individuals, work relationships, networks, behaviors, comprehension, introspection, learning, and the ability to apply pertinent knowledge when needed

  • Managing collaborative relationships between individuals with knowledge-related interests

  • Identifying specific junctures and processes within projects for knowledge transfer

  • Adhering to a phased approach rather than attempting to assimilate the entire knowledge management concept simultaneously.


Holistic Knowledge Management:

- The Integrated Concept

Shelley outlines a knowledge management architecture, representing the comprehensive framework for his recommended approach to efficiently managing organizational knowledge. Below is a representation of the architecture diagram (any translation or modification would yield limited additional insight):


Illustrative Case Studies

Shelley exemplifies the recommended course of action elucidated in the book through an extensive compilation of case studies:

1. Company: PB Australia Pacific

Sector: Energy

Theme: Advancing leadership by harnessing knowledge within existing programs


2. Company: Fluor

Sector: Infrastructure (Projects)

Theme: Cultivating a concept to establish a collaborative learning environment


3. Company: MindTree

Sector: Computing Consulting

Theme: Ingenious integration of knowledge into the prevailing organizational landscape


4. Company: Cadbury

Sector: Food

Theme: Cultivating excellence in knowledge-sharing networks


5. Company: Tata Steel

Sector: Infrastructure

Theme: Persistent commitment to nurturing mature knowledge and performance


6. Company: SIRF Knowledge Roundtable

Sector: Organizational Consulting

Theme: Exploring unconventional avenues for learning


7. Company: Australian Land & Water

Sector: Infrastructure

Theme: Conquering the challenges of geographical distance through knowledge-enabled triumph


8. Companies: Unicorn Industries & NASA

Sector: Engineering

Theme: Candidly addressing long-term strategic challenges among knowledge leaders


9. Company: Acquisition Solutions

Sector: Financial Consulting

Theme: Embracing a comprehensive approach to knowledge-driven leadership.

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