Leadership in Organizational Knowledge Creation: a Review and Framework

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Journal of Management Studies ••:•• 2011 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6486.2010.00978.x

Leadership in Organizational Knowledge Creation: A Review and Framework joms_978 1..38

Georg von Krogh, Ikujiro Nonaka and Lise Rechsteiner
ETH Zurich; Hitotsubashi University; ETH Zurich
abstract Organizational knowledge creation integrates context, knowledge assets, and knowledge creation processes throughout the organization. Using organizational knowledge creation theory as an organizing framework, we conduct a literature review that shows prior work has focused on the role of central, upper-echelon, leadership in knowledge creation processes, without devoting much attention to context and knowledge assets. To remedy these weaknesses, we develop a new framework for situational leadership in organizational knowledge creation. The framework is based on a continuum that ranges from centralized to distributed leadership at three layers of activity: a core layer of local knowledge creation; a conditional layer that provides the resources and context for knowledge creation; and a structural layer that forms the overall frame and direction for knowledge creation in the organization. We discuss the implications of this framework for theory and practice.

INTRODUCTION Over the past 20 years, the study of knowledge creation in organizations has emerged as a body of theoretical and empirical work (e.g. Becerra-Fernandez and Sabherwal, 2001; Chou and He, 2004; Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Konno, 1998; Nonaka et al., 1994). Several theoretical and empirical contributions have concluded that leadership plays a significant role in knowledge processes, such as sharing, creation, and capture (e.g. Bryant, 2003; Lakshman, 2005, 2007; Politis, 2001, 2002; Srivastava et al., 2006; Zárraga and Bonache, 2003), and the successful implementation of knowledge management efforts (e.g. Chourides et al., 2003; Kulkarni et al., 2006; Liebowitz, 1999). Yet, leadership is often mentioned in passing as an auxiliary factor or as a practical implication of theory development; with some notable exceptions, concepts of leadership have received limited systematic, analytical exposure in the study of organizational knowledge creation. Thus far, the long-standing and rich theoretical traditions in the leadership literature have not been extended to work on organizational knowledge, prompting an important question: How does leadership impact on knowledge creation in organizations? Address for reprints: Lise Rechsteiner, ETH Zürich, Kreuzplatz 5, KPL H 6, 8032 Zürich, Switzerland (lrechsteiner@ethz.ch). © 2011 The Authors Journal of Management Studies © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and Society for the Advancement of Management Studies. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.


G. von Krogh et al.

Our approach is to review the literature on leadership studies applied to research problems in organizational knowledge, using organizational knowledge creation theory as an organizing framework (Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Nonaka et al., 2006; von Krogh et al., 2000). Organizational knowledge creation theory is a suitable framework for three reasons. First, it has widespread application in management and organization studies and will be familiar to many readers (Nonaka et al., 2000a). Second, it comprehensively covers sharing and creation processes, which allows a broad inclusion of prior work (Nonaka, 1994). Third, the theory includes process, knowledge assets, and organizational context in an explanatory framework. This comprehensiveness enables the identification of areas where leadership impacts on knowledge creation (Nonaka et al., 2008). We show two areas of weakness in past work. First, theory building and empirical research on leadership have tended to take a limited view on knowledge processes, while largely ignoring knowledge assets and organizational context. Second, much...
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