How to Build the Bridge Between Leadership Theory and Practice

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

How to Build the Bridge Between Leadership Theory and Practice

In life, there are lots of things that sound great in theory, but don’t turn out to be so simple when it comes to putting them into practice. It can also be easier to “know it when you see it” than to know what to do when a situation or opportunity arises.

So, how can you intentionally and readily forge that seemingly mysterious link between theory and practice? Let me tackle the question by using leadership theory as an example.

3 steps for bridging the gap between theory and practice

Here are three steps that I recommend to bridge the gap between leadership theory and practice:

1. Create a specific, clear and compelling outcome.

You set out to study a new theory for a reason – to improve in some way. The more specific, clear and compelling you can make the desired outcome, the more likely you’ll be to take action until you succeed.

2. Clarify the belief(s) or mindset change you need to make to be successful.

Behind every great theory are one or more mindsets that give birth to the tips and techniques offered. More often than not, when you try implementing a new technique and it doesn’t work, it’s because you haven’t shifted your mindset. Distinguishing the specific mindset shifts needed to integrate theory into how you think, is more important in bridging the gap between theory and action, than any tip or technique.

3. Establish a structure to hold yourself accountable for changing.

Putting any new theory into practice requires you to change in some way, both in your thinking and your action. Change is never easy and always causes some level of discomfort. The best way to ensure you follow through is to share your outcome and mindset shifts with someone you can count on to hold you accountable. Set a specific structure – including times and dates — you’ll check in with them to make sure you stay on track.

These three steps will ensure you set yourself up to successfully implement any leadership or management theory. However, ultimately you must walk boldly across that bridge – and you must take action! You must also be willing to continually evolve your thinking and take action until you are successful.

Here’s an example of how and why this works…

As a leader, you’ve decided you need to improve your listening skills. So you go to a class that teaches you the latest theory and techniques on how to improve in this area. Then you return to your office excited about what you learned — and ready to implement.

The first opportunity presents itself and you try out something that you learned. It probably feels a little awkward because it is different from how you usually do things. The person on the other end is wondering what you’re doing so they may be a little uncomfortable as well.  

Some things you try will work. Some won’t work so well or at all (at least not at first). The problem is that it is far too easy to write off those things that didn’t work easily and move on without doing the hard work to figure out how to be successful.

More often than not, when we’re exposed to a new theory or tips and techniques, we’ll follow through and integrate the one or two things that have worked well and feel the most natural for us. Then we’ll, let the rest fall by the wayside.

That’s what makes setting yourself up for success with the three steps I’ve discussed so important.

Putting theory into practice

A clear and specific outcome gives you a very clear-cut definition of success to shoot for that goes beyond simply trying out a new theory. It also ensures you’ll truly do the work to apply it.

Distinguishing the mindset shifts you must personally make, ensures that you integrate the theory into how you think. It will help you to understand the basis for any tips or techniques being offered.

Establishing an accountability partner with regular check-ins at specific dates and times ensure you don’t let urgent demands you face every day overtake your commitment to grow and learn.

Now, after reading this post, what theory are you ready to put into practice once and for all?

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