‘People do not care how much you know until you show how much you care’. This captures a major dichotomy which plagues individual and therefore organisational learning programmes. The Pfeffer and Sutton book ‘The Knowing – Doing Gap’ has done much to lift the profile of this subject which tends to be put in the ‘too difficult’ box. Vast amounts of time, energy and money are spent, and re-spent, and re-spent, on learning programmes which bridge the leadership gap. Many delegates comment that they are there simply to “refresh” their knowledge when what they really should be doing is applying it. The lack of translation into action is the challenge. This leadership gap is the critical space we need to work in to find better ways to bridge the ‘knowing – doing gap’ which can be large or small for both individuals and organisations. How big is the leadership gap for you and for your organisation?
A recent Tweet from a large organisation proudly announced that they had now firmly established ‘compassion’ within the company by finalising their new set of values. They may well have managed to get the message across but does behaviour stack up. The chasm between a list of values and actual behaviour can be huge. Looking clever through words – both on and off the paper – can also be more important to many who arrogantly think that is enough. In an Internet and Social Media age where knowledge costs little with so much of it available then ‘paralysis by analysis’ and information overload can confuse things further. There can be lots of ‘wriggle room’ and ‘noise’ around an area which needs absolute clarity. Does everyone in your organisation display the behaviours which match your values – or not?
Highly skilled managers and leaders are particularly prone to suffer from the ‘gap’. People in technical and professional roles are used to understanding what they should do and how to do it – they have spent many years in training for just that. When it comes to leadership however they often get stuck at the declarative stage because it is outside their comfort zone. Rationalising the reasons why not to act can come easier to them. The theory and knowledge about what they should be doing comes easy but they do not move into procedural or doing mode. They may even think it is enough to know or challenge it all without really understanding that ‘soft skills’ (which they sometimes deride as ‘management’) are actually very, very, hard skills to apply well! Knowing what a good leader does, does not make you a good leader – except inside your own head. Do any groups of professionals in your organisation think that leadership is just another management job to do and believe that they should fit it in if they can?
Learning to be a better leader, you might learn about theories of leadership, the best practice in listening skills, the value of empathy, a benchmarked delegation process etc. This is all very useful declarative knowledge. Putting this into practice helps you gain the skills by transforming this declarative knowledge (knowing) into procedural knowledge (doing). The skills themselves can’t be learned simply by being told or reading a book, or by telling yourself it is all straightforward so what is all the fuss about. However, the absence of bad behaviour is not good behaviour – it is neutral or worse. You gain the skills only after actively putting them into practice linked to honest feedback and reflection. Your leadership persona is simply the aggregate of your personal leadership acts. Here’s the thing – knowing about leadership is the easy part – the hard part is doing it. Are people doing it in your organisation?
Watch this space for the next article with some ideas on how to bridge the gap!