Leadership Theory and Practice in the Real World.

There are all sorts of quotes about leadership theory and practice. They may not seem like it at first read.

“Practice what you preach.”

“Those you can, do. Those who can’t, coach.”

“Lead by example”.

“You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?”

Peanut Butter and Jelly Leadership

Leadership theory and practice is discussed as if the two go hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly or fish and chips. The truth is a bit harsher. The theory is easy; the practice is hard. There is a disconnect between learning and knowing how to be a good leader and the actual execution of those skills when working with individuals, groups, teams and other direct reports.

That is why the quotes above apply to leadership theory and practice. I know leaders who are constantly in pursuit of new theory, advice avnantl of knowledgeize that isnd tips on how to improve their leadership and management skills. They talk about what they learned, how it applies to their workplace and profess enthusiasm to get the opportunity to try out their new skills. And then….

They forget what they learned and go back to how they dealt with issues before out of habit. Their passion for the subject does not get relayed to their staff. They significantly change their behavior for what they think is for the better. Their employees do not know the reason why and that creates uncertainty in the work environment, even if they like the “new” leader. Out of a desire to use a new skill, he or she subconsciously creates the opportunity to use it.

Leadership Theories and Practice

Connecting the Theory and Practice

There is a disconnect between theory and practice. Yet theory and its pursuit still play a critical role in leadership development. New leaders need to learn about all the various forms of leadership to help determine their style. Their individual style needs to fit in the corporate culture. Experienced leaders benefit from revisiting theory because he or she is reminded of skills they may not have had to use much or will see that they are not doing something right or the way it was intended. The smallest tip or enlightenment can have a huge, positive, and lasting impact on style, culture and workplace.

It is all about finding the implementation method – the way between theory and practice. This can be done in several ways:

§  Connect classroom learning or book knowledge to real life situations. When refreshing your memory on management skills by reading a book, or taking a class or seminar, always have your staff and your workplace at the front of your mind. As something resonates with you, clearly define what about the topic does that, and who or what it would apply to in your business or area of responsibility.

§  Draw parallels. Throwing fish around and chanting brought new life to a crew working at Pike’s Pier, but if you make furniture, throwing it around just would not be a good idea. Think about what would create a similar effect in your workplace, just in a way that fits with culture and individual personalities.

§  Start small. A good book or seminar should create a fire in your belly to get back to work and change the world! You cannot do it all at once. You will send your team into upheaval and uncertainty. Do little things instead. If “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” motivates you to bring more positivity in the office, start with a small compliment or a “good job”.  Do not start giving coffee toasts individual by individual every morning. No one starts on top of the mountain. Be content to build a slope towards your goals over time.

§  Be consistent. This is perhaps the most important. Passion wanes and enthusiasm dies. The real world sets in and challenges you on even the most basic levels some days. Yet once you start a leadership change, you need to stick with it. You need to maintain your efforts and work towards the big picture goal you set for your leadership style or organizational culture. Any type of change requires use of good change management skills. You do not want to be the cause of insecurity and dissatisfaction among those with whom you work.

You cannot have a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich without both peanut butter and jelly. You cannot be a good leader unless you know leadership theory and practice it every day. The trick is to find a way to put both pieces together to create one yummy lunch – or a successful organization.


If you want to know more about leadership theory and practice then return to our leadership definition hub for further information and articles.

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