Leadership Experience: Where Do Theory and Reality Meet?

Learn Lead

I continue to read and learn from various articles, blogs and books on the subject of leadership. There really is an unlimited supply of material for us to read!

And reading new content provides the opportunity for our thoughts and actions to be challenged.

New Points of View

New challenges to our thinking occurs when we see examples of theoretical context provided that relate to leadership application and effectiveness in practice.

There is a definite place for the theory of leadership. Without it, the same ideas and concepts continue to be generated and espoused by a variety of authors, learning little beyond that which has been distributed for some years.

  • However, I wonder how important the theoretical content is compared to the ability and experience gained through practical leadership?
  • Where is the balance between testing your own thinking through reading, seeking answers, being mentored and the opportunity and ability to put leadership into practice?

Developing Future Leaders

Questions such as these are particularly relevant for those of us who work in the field of developing and coaching future leaders. At some point there has to be a practical level of experience gained through leading others to test and try out the theories and concepts.

This is where real, entrenched learning occurs.

The relevance of learning and continually developing your ability is very important in many aspects of our lives, including when learning to become a leader. The potential to lead exists in you.

(People) learn to be better leaders as long as they engage in activities that help them learn how. Because to master leadership you have to have a strong desire to excel, you have to believe strongly that you can learn new skills and abilities, and you have to be willing to devote yourself to continuous learning and deliberate practice. No matter how good you are, you can always get better. ~The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes and Posner

The How of Leadership

It is the ‘how’ leadership growth and effectiveness occurs that intrigues me. In addition to the broad elements of leadership success already highlighted, various attitudes and behaviors are predominant in those who I have seen and/or helped to succeed in leading others.

When the right attitudes and behaviors are more apparent in an upcoming leader, the base for development appears to be exponentially greater.

The starting point is much more solid, providing improved opportunity to succeed as a leader:

  • The willingness and ability to assist others and their development through teaching, guiding and mentoring provides a ‘win-win’ in that the teacher and student have opportunity to learn and test ideas.
  • By giving in terms of mentoring and coaching I have learned much about myself, human behaviour and organisational culture.
  • Connectedness, trust and the ability to build genuine relationships form the basis for developing people.
  • The desire to make a difference is inherent.
  • Exposure  to a large variety of people and conducting open conversations are a wonderful platform for learning generally, particularly in a leadership and business environment. Sadly, this is not the norm. Making sure that diversity is a benefit within a culture or team, not a negative.
  • People are often fearful of sharing, preferring to hide their honest views and develop a strategy of shielding others from the ‘real’ them. Often this is exaggerated within the leader-employee context. Breaking down this resistance and earning the right to ask and listen is a key requirement for this relationship to foster change.

Maximizing Leadership

We learn through reading, observing, succeeding, failing and tackling the many other opportunities that arise through our work and outside commitments.

The opportunities to grow are maximised through practice and application.

To the original point though,  the need to practically apply the learning is an imperative to truly master any skill, as is certainly the case with leadership. We all have opportunities to develop and portray leadership in many aspects of our lives, both formally and informally, in and out of the workplace.

Applied Leadership

The theoretical tenets  of leadership do not replace the need to apply leadership principles in practice. Real experience in leading people, influencing, feeling genuine growth and embedding of knowledge is the result of both theory and practice.

Learning to lead is the outcome of various inputs and contributions, but whatever your official role, it starts with your attitude to learning and willingness to dedicate yourself to the art and science of leadership.

You must have the attitude of a leader to become a leader.


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Steve Riddle

Steve Riddle is the owner of CoachStation
He is making a difference by focusing on leadership & people development
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Steve Riddle on November 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Lead In, Lead On and commented:
    I recently wrote a blog on the Linked2Leadership website titled Leadership Experience: Where Do Theory and Reality Meet? It has generated considerable comment and opinion, all of which shows that the inherent versus learned behaviours, skills and capabilities required to be an effective leaders are not necessarily easy to obtain and sustain. Read more and let me know your thoughts…

  2. ramakrishnan6002 on January 13, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.