Leadership Story | Leaders Cross The Knowing-Doing Gap

This past week we held our annual Academy Leadership Conference in south Florida. A lot happens over three full days, and we usually leave very energized. One of the reasons for this is that we share knowledge with each other.

This brings to mind   Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton’s The Knowing-Doing Gap, in that we frequently seem to focus much more on knowledge than doing, exemplified by a passage on page 16:

“But the view of knowledge taken by many consultants, organizations,
and management writers is of something to be acquired, measured,
and distributed — something reasonably tangible, such as patents.”

Administrative knowledge seems an accurate term for this, and we may often presume, that once possessed, this know-how will be used effectively, which in practice often does not happen. Think of most common initiatives undertaken focusing on cloud computing and data warehousing and support software installation, and the rise of corresponding organizational structures. The usual result: Adding technology without changing behaviors which only extends the Knowing-Doing Gap.

Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize the use of the word knowledge as a process rather than a thing as a helpful habit well worth developing. Or put another way, most companies:

“Overestimate the importance of the tangible, specific, programmatic aspects
of what competitors, for instance, do, and underestimate the importance
of the underlying philosophy that guides what they do and why they do it.”

What they do and why they do it. So, what energized our Academy Leadership team this past week? We shared stories about things that we did, ways we engaged with our clients, and most significantly, we captured the stories from our Leadership Excellence Partner award winners. These were the amazing testimonials, shared from the heart, by leaders who are transforming their organizations while working with an Academy Leadership facilitator, or partner. 

There’s an analog here worth reflecting on. We can likewise envision leadership, both term and practice of, as a verb, or as an action or process, rather than a noun or title. At the end of the week, the first cohort of our new Academy Leadership Advanced Leadership Course regrouped for our fourth day. We were processing day three at a coffee shop, and as with the conference just finished, the team was sharing stories, asking themselves how to focus on what really mattered in order to realize their developing future vision. It was a great opportunity to share knowledge from the conference completed two days before. 

During the conference, we held a panel sharing best practices when facilitating development of a Personal Leadership Philosophy. One of the elements of a leadership philosophy, and often overlooked is our leadership priorities. In short, what’s important, and in what order. A member from the panel shared how they ask a group, especially one typically juggling everyday distractions and interruptions (think about a culture of doing more with less): “What are the two or three balls in the air which cannot be dropped?” Fantastic answer and a fantastic story. The cohort immediately connected with the analogy, and we went further. The group then challenged each other whether or not these two or three priorities were mentioned in their respective leadership philosophies, and then whether or not the priorities were aligned.

That’s communication. That’s breakthrough. That’s leadership. Leaders cross the Knowing-Doing Gap.