The Knowledge Executive

The leader, asserts Harlan Cleveland, is a generalist, a coordinator of the activities of others. Advances in technology and knowledge through the centuries have changed the qualifications for leadership from rank to achievement; now the mushrooming developments in computer and telecommunications technologies, and those results when they are used together, are transforming methods of executive leadership. It is essential that the manager understand how information technology affects the business of getting things done through others.

After surveying the evolution of the leader’s role as a generalist, Cleveland discusses how information has replaced material things as the major resource that must be managed, and he goes on to discuss how attempting to manage information using techniques developed to manage things will cause trouble for leaders. His discussion focuses on the following: the control of leadership when more, not fewer, people have access to much more information than ever before; the control of access to information and control of who shall benefit from its use; how to ensure the fair distribution of information and fair access of it; and the global ramifications resulting from these developments. He then considers some of the social changes that will be necessary for a successful transition to leadership in an information-dominated world, suggesting that schooling at all levels must integrate formerly distinct branches of knowledge and emphasize global causes and effects; he suggests further that the best use to which society can put older members of the work force may well be to continue to use their accumulated wisdom.

Cleveland, currently dean of the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, draws on his wide reading and his extensive experience as an administrator, both public and academic, for this book. Extensively referenced, the book is rich in anecdote and very readable. Whether one agrees with Cleveland’s suggestions and conclusions, one will thoroughly enjoy reading what he has to say.