I am a listservant for the International Leadership Association. ILA is a pretty organization - one that is dedicated to understanding the dynamics of leadership in for profit, not for profit, political, educational and other organizations worldwide. A post to the listserv follows that I thought captured nicely the dilemma we face in relation to building the connection between theory and practice in leadership:
On many occasions the companies I worked with would seek out the latest fad or trend in business, presented by someone who had spent the last six years studying a tiny facet of business. They would tour the speaking circuit and visit our company, giving rise to the heroic business consultant, the savior of the latest knowledge. I can’t tell you how common it was to visit these conferences and hear the latest speaker tell us what changes needed to be made. For most of my friends who had attended, the problem was not in the content but in the constant chase for the new. We constantly felt like something new had to be learned when we hadn’t even finished what we just got. It made everyone’s eyes roll.
But on a rare occasion I felt like I had connected to those who had really discovered something. I felt this way with Jim Collins, and Peter Senge, and Clayton Christensen. These were academia that seemed to touch something much deeper in the organizational gene pool. I remember attending a conference with Collins. You could hear a pin drop...for an hour. They had discovered the fundamentals and presented them in a way that was accessible.
For business the real challenge is finding real and practical wisdom that is not so esoteric. The business manager has to pass these on. If the information is really good but it is too narrow, the audience becomes too small, and it becomes too hard to get people on board.
Contributed by Jonathan Brink August 23, 2006
So what do we make of the fact that so many of us are searching to understand and foster leadership? In our rush to to find something that can help others, we package things that perhaps are not applicable to anyone else, let alone mass translation to broad segments of our working and community worlds. I know that I am perceived (and this blog probably documents) that I am an idea person - always seeking to find some new idea that can help us understand leadership more fully. I also hope that I am a contributor to the difficult translation of theory to practice. If our theories can't help us be more effective, what use are they? I commit to redoubling my effort in translating theory in practical, meaningful, and transforming ways. Hold me accountable, fellow bloggers!