I had the pleasure of working with some very talented, collaborative colleagues in a management consultant practice a few years ago, (Ron Wiens, Tania Carriere, Brian Kelly, Jen Hunter et al). As I reflect back on our work together, it occurs to me now, as it did then, that their practical thinking about management and leadership was ahead of their time in many ways.
One of the key principles / quotes heard often in conversations with clients, and used often in workshop materials was, and I hope I remember this right:
"Releasing the will and talents of others is the essence of leadership. Today's knowledge workers do not want to be managed; they want to be led. They want the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution."
I think if you look at successful knowledge-based organizations, managers at all levels understand this and act accordingly.
They let others "hold the pen." They encourage productive / learning oriented experiments, and yes, mistakes. They understand that work is no longer production-oriented where the number of quality "things" produced is what is rewarded and compensated. They understand that "knowledge work" occurs fundamentally in people's heads, is essentially unobservable, but is greatly dependant on access to quality information and by the effectiveness of how people work together. They are sensitive to the fact that employees are not "things" to be accounted for and moved like chess pieces, but are complex individuals with varying perspectives, priorities, strengths and weaknesses, and lives outside work that are often, uncontrollably, in conflict with it.
If I can summarize what I think effective management is in a knowledge based organization ...
Point the "way", remove barriers that are in the "way", encourage progress along the "way", and get the hell out of the "way".