Wednesday, 24 February 2016

“How to Bridge the Gap between Leadership Theory and Practice?” ―Professor M.S.Rao

“He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards a ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

On Feb 19, 2016, I travelled by flight to keynote leadership conference in Nagpur, India. The person who sat beside me asked about my profession. I informed that I am an executive coach, author and leadership keynote speaker. He curiously asked me how to bridge the gap between leadership theory and practice. Will books help readers grow as leaders? The question was quite interesting and I replied him as follows:

Books don’t groom readers as leaders but serve as guidelines to them by providing different perspectives to widen their mental horizons. They provide theoretical inputs to help readers understand the various aspects on the topic to equip with expertise and build confidence.  They provide knowledge from multiple perspectives as authors do intensive research before writing books. If the authors are from research background, they provide various aspects on leadership research with pros and cons to enable the readers to understand and apply. Since the readers may not have research mindset, time and resources, the books help them immensely. If the authors write books from practitioners’ perspective, they help readers understand various challenges in exploring the leadership concepts.  They make readers become better leaders as they serve as blueprints for them. Having theoretical knowledge helps minimize mistakes and maximize leadership effectiveness.

Nobody can become a crackshot unless they lose some ammunition. So real learning about leadership starts in practical life with trial and error methods. When readers apply theoretical aspects in real business environment, they understand what works and doesn’t work in their specific environment and industry. They accept and apply what is relevant and discard the rest. In this way, the readers can close the gap between theory and practice. When you look at leadership educators in various business schools, they refer various case studies share with students and discuss with them. They share the pros and cons of theoretical aspects that enable the students to understand and explore. After students enter into corporate world, they encounter the real challenges and adapt to the environment accordingly.

Leadership basically depends on theoretical inputs. Of course, the practitioners change their strategies at the ground level to suit their needs and expectations of the industry and stakeholders.  Hence, theory is the foundation to leadership which guides and grooms. Theory provides the principles and philosophies on leadership. It provides directions for the practitioners to move forward cautiously and carefully. Hence, theory cannot be ignored. At the same time, there must be changes at the practical front as challenges differ from industry to industry and leadership style differs from the personality of the leaders. Yogi Berra rightly remarked, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”  Therefore, there is no quick fix formula to leadership learning. There is no one-size-fits-all-approach to leadership development. Leadership must be customized as per the situation, style of the leaders, environment and the industry.


To achieve leadership effectiveness, there must be symbiotic relationship between the leadership scholars and practitioners. Scholars must visit industry regularly to understand the corporate ground realities and practitioners must visit campus to customize the curriculum as per their requirements. It helps both scholars and practitioners to understand each others’ expectations and aspirations to bridge the gap between theory and practice. To conclude, books build confidence in the readers. They offer theoretical leadership ideas and insights to prepare readers as leaders and help them understand various aspects on leadership to minimize mistakes and maximize leadership effectiveness to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.

“Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.” ― Immanuel Kant

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Professor M.S.Rao, India
Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants India
Recipient of 10th International Prestigious Sardar Patel Award―2015
21 Success Sutras for Leaders: Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year (San Diego University) Amazon URL:

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